Commentary: Paid Parking Is the Gorilla in the Room

The comments by the Davis City Council regarding the proposed Davis Ace Project were instructive.  They were clearly willing to grant the project – three of the four councilmembers at the meeting in the absence of Rochelle Swanson – but they were also critical of the inability to follow best practices.

Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee in particular hit back at what he clearly saw as a double standard in Davis whereby residents claim to support science, ridicule those who deny the science of climate change, but do not support the scientifically proven process for parking management.

“Paid parking is a very important if not essential tool in the management of demand,” he said.  We don’t have a supply issue, we have a parking management issue.”

One of the centerpieces of the downtown parking plan was a paid parking provision.  However, politics has blocked its imposition.

It is instructive to read the column from April of 2014 by Rich Rifkin, published in the Davis Enterprise.

He noted, “City staff and the Downtown Parking Task Force put together a tour de force presentation in favor of a package of 19 recommendations. Their ideas rested on a plan to install ‘smart’ parking meters in the section of our core area where demand often exceeds supply.”

The case, he said, was clearly made that “if the council wanted to solve the problem, it needed to understand that the task force’s ideas all worked as one.”

However, that unity was shattered when the “anti-meter side,” as he called it, showed up at the city council meeting.  He commented, “All of their arguments against paid parking fell short on logic and originality. They failed to offer any realistic solution.”

He wrote that “they did not comprehend how smart meters offer the chance to help downtown merchants by freeing up prime spots near their businesses for paying customers.”

It was Brett Lee with support from then-Mayor Joe Krovoza who pushed for the paid parking, but they were outvoted at the time.  “The council severed the task force’s package. They rejected smart meters.”

Mr. Rifkin wrote, “The best suggestion they accepted is to try to get some downtown workers to park in underutilized off-street garages. That won’t solve the problem. But it might help a wee bit.”

Mr. Rifkin also made the micro-economics case, saying “if you have a scarce resource and you don’t allow the price to rise when demand exceeds supply, you will have a shortage.

“Street parking in some parts of downtown Davis at certain hours on certain days is a scarce resource. Because we don’t price premium parking places properly, demand exceeds supply and we have a shortage,” he argued.

Mr. Rifkin also countered a common argument that paid parking would force people to go online, to Target or to Woodland.  This point has recently been made on the Vanguard and elsewhere.

Mr. Rifkin countered, “What she does not get is that, because there are no spaces open near some downtown businesses now, many who would like to shop or dine downtown are already going elsewhere.”

But there is another critical point here – if smart meters or paid parking mean that one person goes to Woodland instead of the Davis Downtown, that opens up a space in the downtown that is otherwise occupied.

Rich Rifkin wrote, “With smart meters, we also could let everyone know in real time where spaces are available and how much they cost. Just as urban malls do, we could allow merchants to validate customers’ parking, so those who bought lunch or merchandise would still park free.

“Unfortunately, Davis is not about to get smart.

“Every day on certain blocks there will be a shortage. Those who would like to dine and shop will be forced out by strict time limits. Drivers will keep circling around, looking for a space. Customers who would rather be spending money will be stuck,” he concluded.  “Bad judgment brings bad outcomes.”

Now three years later, those roosters are coming home to roost.

As we noted yesterday, Mayor Robb Davis was in the end the lone dissenter.

He put much of it on himself, noting, “I take this decision as an indictment of the work I’ve tried to do on parking in the downtown.”  He said, “It’s a finger pointing at a failure to move forward a  comprehensive plan that I helped to formulate before I was on council.

“This is a discussion about parking,” he said.  “We have options to expand our parking by several hundred spots, we haven’t done it.

“We have absolutely tied one hand behind our back by not instituting paid parking on block faces on the street,” he said.  “As Brett said, the evidence is clear on that.”

He noted this was the “accepted wisdom among all urban planners about the way parking should be handled today and going forward.”  He views this proposal as an indictment on what the council has not been able to do.  “This is an inevitable outcome – people see that they’re not having their needs met, so they take it upon themselves,” he said.

“I can’t vote with the planning commission on this, because I believe it goes against everything we should be doing on parking,” he said.  “But I do believe that we can achieve the ends that you want to achieve.  It takes the grand bargain.  It makes us take a step back and use the management tools that really do work in the real world.”

But there was no grand bargain to be had.  Davis Ace had the votes and they knew it.

But, at the same time, the writing was on the wall.

Brett Lee said, “Even though on this one little piece of downtown we are probably not moving in a congruent way for what our vision is with the downtown, that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s important that we try to implement those recommendations because we know that in the long run that is going to be beneficial to the downtown.

“Regardless of what the vote is right now, we need to push forward on those recommendations,” he said.

“I don’t think the terms of the grand bargain are mutually exclusive to this project happening,” Will Arnold added.

We agree, but unfortunately this should have been done three years ago and maybe we could have avoided suboptimal process and handwringing.  Maybe.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    In my opinion the gorilla in the room is the citizen backlash the council will receive if they attempt to go to street paid parking in the downtown core.

        1. Keith O

          They all think it will be about the same with the only difference being they’ll now have to pay for it.  The people I’ve talked see it as nothing more than a city money grab.

        2. David Greenwald

          The amount of money here is going to be too small – as was pointed out to yesterday to be any sort of money grab.

          But you’ve basically answered my question – the answer is if the paid parking program improves the situation, people won’t be upset.  If it ends up as status quo, then they will be – and rightfully so.

        3. Keith O

          The amount of money here is going to be too small

          Charging for 1000’s of parking spaces in our downtown core is only going to generate a small amount of revenue?  Really?

          Another thing we know for sure, once the city gets its foot in the door the fees will only go up over the years.

          1. David Greenwald

            There’s your first problem – according to the 2013 staff report there is a total of 650 parking spaces in the downtown. The recommendation was for paid parking in the SE Quadrant and was expanded to city owned surface lots.

        4. Howard P

          Keith… use gray cells… in initial years, revenues from paid parking goes to repay initial capital costs and enforcement levels… thereafter, revenues need to go to maintenance/repair/sinking fund for replacement of capital costs, and enforcement.

          Zero sum game, initially, and even thereafter a “push”… this is parking management, not taxation/revenue generating except for direct purposes, no matter how feebly you try to spin it otherwise

        5. Keith O

          revenues from paid parking goes to repay initial capital costs and enforcement levels

          Yes like anything else eventually the initial outlay will be paid for then it’s all profit.  Secondly we have enforcement now, so why are you calling future enforcement an added cost?  Plus enforcement just leads to more revenue in the way of fines.  I’m sure it pays for itself and then some.  Many cities rely on these kinds of parking enforcement fines for revenue.

          Now Howard, see if you can reply without being a %$@&?

        6. Cindy_Pickett

          Keith O – If the parking meters were to generate significant revenue (I don’t believe this will be the case, but let’s assume so for the sake of argument), what would be the problem with that?  Are you opposed to the city trying to generate revenue? Do you not believe the city needs the money? I’m honestly just trying to understand where you are coming from.

        7. Keith O

          Cindy, my point is there are people trying to make the point that paid parking isn’t a revenue generator and it’s not a reason that the city is trying to initiate paid parking.  I don’t believe that.  It’s all part of the ongoing conversation we’ve been having.  I see it as yet just another tax we’re getting hit with.

        8. David Greenwald

          Keith: My point is that you haven’t established that it is.  You were way off on the number of spaces, isn’t it possible you’re way off what the revenue is that this would generate?

        9. Howard P

          As usual, you cherry pick… and spin… all capital assets have maintenance, repair, and replacement costs… most of the equipment will have about a 8-10 year useful life, even with maintenance and repair.  So, figure an annual expenditure of 15-20% of capital costs to cover those.

          You are slightly correct… I glossed over the fact that in the first 3-5 years, the initial capital costs will not be covered by revenue… it will be a “loss-leader”, very likely… if the full capital costs were ‘captured’ in the first year, the rates would be so high, they would be counter-productive.

          Your assertion that “eventually the initial outlay will be paid for then it’s all profit.”, and, “Many cities rely on these kinds of parking enforcement fines for revenue.” Name five, with cites… “rely” implies at least 5-10% of total revenue.  Put up or…

          Fines are interesting… when challenged, the courts have generally ruled that fines, like fees, have to have a nexus… costs of processing violations, collecting, judgements when collections failed, can be included… parking fines cannot be a viable revenue source… by law.  Nice try.

          As to, “Secondly we have enforcement now, so why are you calling future enforcement an added cost?”   Again, new equipment (including capital, maintenance, repair, capital replacement) training, possibly increased frequency of ‘patrols’ (human resources, with all that means… salary/benefits/retirement/OT).  You fail again.

          There is the other “issue” I did not previously raise, at least not recently.  DT businesses have made clear, in the past, that they “want their cut” of any revenues for increased City sidewalk washing, promotional events, downtown “amenities” to serve DT business interests, if the City wanted their support for any sort of paid parking.  They at one time had that as a higher priority than the City recouping its costs.

          As to “being a %$@&”… am trying, desperately to learn from you, Master, but am only a humble student.

    1. darelldd

      So the folks you’ve spoken with would like everybody else to pay for their parking? This “money grab” concept would be comical if it weren’t so frighteningly wrong.

      Is it considered a “money grab” if a restaurant decides to charge me for the dinner I’ve consumed? I don’t expect for the public to evenly pay for my dinner when I decide to have it. Why should we all pay for the parking of those who wish to avail themselves of it? Use of our roads and sidewalks is a public good. But parking? If you feel you need it, then pay a tiny amount for it. You may just find a better way to visit downtown, and free up spaces for those who truly DO need to park.

      1. Keith O

        Is it considered a “money grab” if a restaurant decides to charge me for the dinner I’ve consumed?

        Not at all because my tax money didn’t pay for the restaurant’s building, food and someone to cook the food.

        But you’re comparing apples to carrots, where have I heard that, because when it comes to parking my tax money has already paid for the street where I’m going to park my car.

      2. Keith O

        Using your logic where do you park your bike when you ride it downtown.  Why should we all pay for the parking rack and space you use to park your bike?

      1. Alan Miller

        At first glance that looks like a reasonable coverage area.  I’m sure there are a few glitches in the mix.  I would be surprised if they overcome the issues to allow charging at Amtrak — but I’m willing to be surprised.  If they do $5/day without a monthly, that will add $110 to a full-time commuter ticket, already hundreds of dollars, and some percentage will stop riding, and a likely smaller percentage will change modes to reach the station.

        1. Howard P

          If we could get away with a Davis resident exception (and just tag the Sacto folk who drive across the causeway to avoid their parking fees) that might be good.

        2. Todd Edelman

          Capitol Corridor seems expensive partly because car driving on its own is massively under-priced. I’m not saying that the parking at Davis Depot should be free, but that this very central lot should be re-configured to generate income for the City… or how’s this… to increase subsidies for rail journeys between Davis and Sacramento? It’s anti-equity to have a slow cheap bus and a relatively fast expensive train to Sacramento, when, after all, taxpayers subsidize both. The purpose of a bus in regional travel is NOT to provide a cheaper alternative to the train! It’s to provide last-mile for the train and serve areas without  a train station or stop.

          I think it’s nuts to use this central space only so that early morning trains are accessible by car. At the very least it should charge enough so that every train can be accessed by cars — this is an application of the smart parking pricing most of seem to grok. BUT yes! Only if there are transit services from all over town which are synchronized with train arrivals and departures, secure parking (and charging) for electric-assist bikes of all sizes, a free, driverless shuttle from the 4th St. lot also synchronized, and the same from a parking lot that’s directly accessible from I-80 with no or minimal impacts on surface traffic flow.

          The paid parking could be put under a tax-revenue-generating commercial structure of two to three stories that is built – here’s the intriguing tender – without harming any of the existing trees. Or no parking at all except for what’s required by ADA plus a kiss & ride/taxi stand at its current location.

  2. David Greenwald

    BTW, we actually have a rather successful model for this.  We have had paid parking in the downtown for quite some time and it has proved very successful.  E Street Plaza.  The lot is almost always filled.

    I’d like to see someone address Rifkin’s economics point because I think that point is getting lost.

    1. Todd Edelman

      E Street Plaza is not a “plaza” by any reasonable definition. It’s a parking lot with a teeny tiny patio, which is of criminal proportions in terms of thousands of years of urban design. I agree about the paid parking helping with supply, but pretty much every European and many Latin American tourists would wonder where our town square is. Central Park only partly serves ths function on Farmer’s Market days.

      Yes, the E. Street Plaza is occasionally-used for public events, but the design only offers space for this and not much else.

      A proper town square is normally-active without any particular commercial activity. It does not need a bunch of plastic chairs and a temporary stage to work. It’s kept open for any variety of activities, or just for kids to play spontaneously. It’s an ideal location for a public fountain, ideally the kind that that kids can run through.

      So I think that E Street Plaza is popular also because it’s centrally-located. That’s of course obvious, but for me it begs the question about why cars, or cars belonging to people, or people-car aggregates take priority over… people. Transit stops should be closer to this location than they are, certainly closer than this ugly pool of metal, glass and asphalt, radiating heat on hot days, increasing the cooling costs of surrounding buildings.

    2. Howard P

      David… have not seen a ‘balance sheet’ as to the current paid parking… revenues (regular and fines) capital costs (acquisition, maintenance, repair, replacement fund), enforcement costs (incremental from previous)… was told ~ a year ago that an analysis had been done, but have not seen any mention of it (anywhere).  It would need to be since inception, due to original capital outlays.

      That info, if available, would help the discussion, big time.

      1. darelldd

        Also, see if you can turn up a “balance sheet” of the current un-paid parking in downtown. Parking spaces are not free, of course. Yet we certainly treat them as if they are.


        1. Ron

          darelldd:  “Parking spaces are not free, of course.”

          Honest question – how are they paid for, now?

          Of course, bicyclists don’t (directly) pay for their parking (as Keith pointed out), nor do they (directly) pay for the streets and paths that they use.  (However, in principle, I have no “problem” with this.)

          Keith:  I suspect we’re on the losing end, regarding paid parking.  I have less “problem” with this, than I do with developers failing to pay for the impacts that they create.  (And that impact ultimately includes the need for “parking management”, including a lack of sufficient, less-restrictive peripheral parking as density increases, and “parking craters” are eliminated.)

          Even “smart growth” has impacts and costs.

        2. darelldd

          >> Neither are bike racks and the space they use, of course. <<

          Of course. Yet you say this as if they can somehow be equated. I would be happy to pay into the system, provided we all paid in the ratio of cost and use.

          12 bikes fit in one car parking spot. Every bicycle you see parked in town represents one more car spot that’s open for you. Is that not what you want?

          Is having more parked cars in town really the vision you have for a vital downtown?

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