It spawned a far broader and far more important debate than the decision over a simple project that would create a parking lot with a 2000-square-foot shade structure at 815 Third Street for Davis Ace Hardware customers. In the end, the council voted 3 to 1 with Robb Davis in dissent and Rochelle Swanson absent to deny the appeal and uphold the May 10 decision of the Planning Commission.
But, even within that agreement to support the project, both sides of the issue saw complexity and contradiction.
As staff explained, “The basis for approving the appeal would be a determination that the Planning Commission erred in its approval of the entitlements.” And, based on their analysis, “staff cannot conclude that the Planning Commission erred in granting its approval of the applications.”
But even members of the council noted there were inconsistencies. As Councilmember Frerichs put it, design guidelines “are not absolute requirements.
“This project is consistent with the zoning, therefore approvable. It doesn’t need to demonstrate consistency with every design guideline,” he said. “I think this proposal is an approval over what exists now.
“It provides needed short-term parking to Davis Ace,” he said. He also doesn’t think it will preclude redevelopment to higher and better use of the site in the future.
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee pushed back when he believed that public commenters mischaracterized what the city did in regard to paid parking. He said that the council clearly talked about a differential of rates to encourage shorter-term parking. This, he said, included a discussion of parking validation to allow for potential waiver of fees for short-term parking.
Like many, the mayor pro tem felt that the appeal gave the community a chance to discuss critical issues regarding the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) and the need for parking.
In the end, he was supportive of the project.
He said, “They are supporting their business. What they are proposing makes sense from their perspective. Given the sort of dysfunctional parking environment that we’ve created for ourselves because of our unwillingness to listen to what the experts on parking policy and good design have said, it’s understandable that they’ve made this request,” he said, noting, “I’m supporting their request for parking.”
At the same time, he was critical of Davis residents who claim to support science, but do not support the scientifically proven process for parking management. When we move ahead with the CASP, he said, it’s important “that we give weight to what the experts say.” He added that he was hoping people will work with them as they implement a paid parking strategy.
Like his colleagues, Will Arnold noted the use of some fallacious arguments in this process. He read from the parking requirements and found them fairly unambiguous. Councilmember Arnold said he’s a bit perplexed that, in this case, “the guidelines can be ignored or we ought to look or work around them (and these) are some of the same folks who opposed other projects saying we need to respect the zoning, we need to respect the design guidelines at all costs.
“The lesson here is that our design guidelines do not exist in a vacuum and they are not the end of the discussion,” he said.
He said there are considerations to make, including the viability of this long-time anchor to the downtown.
“It’s a business that has unique needs,” he said, that couldn’t be accommodated in even the most creative mode share options. And he said that he had received plenty of input.
Mayor Robb Davis was in the end the lone dissenter. He noted that he was pleased with the tone of the discussion, which he acknowledged in particular took place on the Vanguard. He found the discussion to be passionate but also respectful and fairly substantive.
“People value the Ace Hardware business and don’t want to do anything to hurt it,” he said.
“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.”
He said that he wants to consider a parking improvement district. He pushed for a grand bargain – an idea ultimately rejected by both the applicant and his colleagues. Although, here too there was nuance.
The rest of the council, while not willing to vote against this project, nevertheless felt that the “idea of the grand bargain is important.”
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.
The council then voted 3 to 1 to support the Planning Commission decision and deny the appeal. But the issue of parking and the Core Area Specific Plan will remain. The council thanked Mark West for the appeal, appreciating the discussion that it generated.
—David M. Greenwald reporting