For the last several weeks a council item on in-lieu parking fees, and now an appeal of an approval on the Davis Ace Hardware parking lot, has triggered a series of Vanguard articles and much discussion focused on critical issues like parking, redevelopment and the downtown.
I have largely avoided weighing in on the Davis Ace situation, but also want to make some more general comments.
First, I do not have anything against the proposed Davis Ace parking lot and, in fact, I will go so far as to suggest that I am supportive of it. As someone who has worked in the downtown for five and a half years, I am keenly aware of the lack of availability of parking during critical times and the lack of willingness for people to park and walk to a given location in general.
That being said, I am a bit troubled by what the city has done here procedurally.
In the May 10 letter, Mark West and others point out, “We recognize the project was initially already approved in June 2016, but that approval was granted in error.” He argues that the project is inconsistent with the General Plan, Core Area Specific Plan and Design Guidelines.
He cites evidence that city staff recognized their inconsistencies, noting: “The project is not consistent with every Design Guideline for this area … ” And, ” … a project with primarily ground floor storage and parking is inherently conflicted with certain guidelines.”
Instead of addressing these points head on, city staff pretend that they are not there.
Staff responds directly: “Staff, HRMC [Historical Resources Management Commission] and PC [Planning Commission] have all found that the project complies with applicable DDTRN [Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhoods] Design Guidelines, Central Commercial zoning standards, Core Area Specific Plan, and General Plan.”
Moreover, “Design Guidelines are ‘guidelines’ expressing a policy preference, but not absolute requirements.”
First they argue that it complies and then they fudge, saying in effect that even if they don’t comply, these are “guidelines” not “requirements.”
Mark West is blunt, writing, “While I do not see any particular benefit of this project, in fact I believe it is detrimental, I am not the appropriate arbiter of that decision. I do not however believe that changes of this magnitude should be left to the whims of City Staff or the Planning Commission either. For that reason, I filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision so that our elected representatives on the City Council would have an opportunity to weigh in.”
While I don’t see anything particularly detrimental about the project, I agree with Mr. West here that it would be better for council to weigh in on this decision and to be up front if they intend to alter design guidelines for this project.
There is nothing particularly wrong with doing so, in my view, as long as we are up front about it.
Clearly, there are some deeper issues at play in this discussion which is why it has generated so many comments and different submissions over the last several weeks – unsolicited submissions, I should add.
As the city looks at re-examining the Core Area Specific Plan, we should keep in mind these discussions, and part of it is looking at the big picture philosophy on parking and redevelopment.
Michael Bisch in his comment yesterday evening reminds us that this is not just a discussion about parking, but rather redevelopment.
He said, “My ‘concern’ is that we have not been achieving the agreed upon ends, which in this case is downtown redevelopment. Instead, all the focus is on the means (parking) with no regard for the ends (redevelopment).
“Parking is a tool (a means). It is not an ends in and of itself,” he argued. “Yet you have a number of commenters whose singular focus is on parking as if parking was the ends.”
He makes a good point, but I think we need to view parking as infrastructure – you need to lay in your infrastructure before you can build your project and, along those lines, you need to figure out parking in order to properly redevelop the downtown.
Based on this discussion, I still believe that the Downtown Parking Task Force goals largely failed to produce what we really need – which is parking capacity that will enable us to redevelop the downtown to make it a more robust location.
In addition to large scale parking, I think we need to be more creative with our use of downtown space and I am in agreement that parking craters such as described are problematic to that. We have lost a lot of street and valuable space to parking and we need to rethink that.
Of course both of those issues relate to the loss of redevelopment money and the inability to generate the kind of capital we need in order to build these kinds of projects.
Finally, I have long advocated for ways to reduce vehicle miles and reduce the reliance on cars for transportation. With that said, I do not believe that we achieve that through limiting the availability of parking spaces in a given area.
Why? Well, because if people can’t park in the downtown, they’ll simply go somewhere else where they can park. The downtown is not such a great destination – no offense – that people are going to change their transportation modes in order to get there.
—David M. Greenwald reporting