When East Is West and North Is South

By Michael Bisch

“On-site parking shall not be placed in front of buildings along sidewalks; there shall be unbroken pedestrian walks and short walking distances between uses. This facilitates window shopping, browsing, people watching and social interaction.” – City of Davis Core Area Specific Plan

“Minimum parking typically results in a lot of parking lots around the city and that’s particularly detrimental when you have a downtown, when you want to have a walkable downtown, so really a parking in-lieu fee is meant to consolidate all that private, half-used parking. And when we do studies around the state, and throughout the country, we see there are a lot of empty parking lots when you have private supply.” – City of Davis parking adviser, Walker Parking Consultants

“The private parking lots have less utilization, so if you have a geography-constrained location like our downtown, for instance, the best use is to encourage the in-lieu fees so you have more highly-utilized [public] parking.” – City of Davis Councilmember, Brett Lee


“I agree with Don and others that this appeal makes no sense. Retail depends on parking availability to be successful. Davis Ace Hardware customers will be impacted the most with a shift of the City now wanting to charge for parking in the adjacent parking lots. Davis Ace Hardware is our major anchor downtown and the decision made to charge for parking just discourages shoppers from shopping downtown. These negative impacts wind up reducing sales, then we lose sales tax while also hurting the ability for local retail businesses to survive.” – Eileen Samitz

Launching a substantive community conversation around whether free and abundant parking should be elevated above the planning principals embedded in our General Plan, Core Area Specific Plan, Design Guidelines, zoning ordinances and the Downtown Parking Task Force Recommendations is the primary goal of the Ace parking project protest letter and the appeal that followed. That goal has been achieved as we can see from the CASP excerpt and the quotes above.

It is regrettable that it took an ad hoc coalition of residents to instigate this important community conversation*. Conducting such a conversation is the duty of the planning commission. That is what they signed up for. To put it bluntly, they failed that duty twice: the first time was when the Ace parking project initially came before them on June 22, 2016; the 2nd time was when the revised project came before them May 10, 2017. In both instances, the commissioners engaged in blatant displays of intellectual dishonesty.

It is one thing to argue that the Ace parking project is fundamentally at odds with our planning documents, but to vote in favor of the project due to some clearly identified overriding consideration. But the exact opposite occurred at both planning commission meetings. The commission majority never identified an overriding consideration. Instead, they simply waved a magic wand by ruling the project complied with the city’s planning documents. The project clearly does not comply with the majority of the objective measures in those documents and certainly does not meet with the spirit of them. For those readers unfamiliar with the relevant measures, you can find them here:


What the planning commission essentially has done is rule that east is west and north is south to meet their ideological predispositions. That is not at all acceptable. I look forward to an intellectually honest and vigorous debate Tuesday evening in the City Council chambers.

*This is an important conversation because the Ace parking project has wide ranging policy implications that are slated to be at the center of the CASP and General Plan updates and the possible adoption of form-based codes. If some, such as the planning commission majority, wish to avoid this conversation, why are we spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these planning exercises?

-Michael Bisch is the owner of Davis Commercial Properties, a provider of commercial property management, leasing and brokerage services. He has served as a volunteer in a number of downtown-related community service organizations such as Davis Arts Alliance, JumpStart Davis, Pathways to Employment, Radiate Art and Davis Downtown.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Todd Edelman

    Retail depends on availability of ACCESS and – due to online competition – robust complementary offerings – restaurants, coffee shops, free public places to be social, etc. – to be successful.

    Access – as I’ve mentioned previously – that replaces and improves upon what’s possible with a private motor vehicle does, however, need to be well thought out: Way more frequent and faster buses, appropriate bikes (would be great if they were explicitly promoted by the City), lockers Downtown, safe facilities for delivery at home (from local stores, too). more taxi availability and infrastructure to facilitate all of this in a safe and otherwise appropriate way.

  2. Michael Bisch

    1) No further development of private parking fronting 3rd Street. Such lots are prohibited by the GP, the CASP, the Design Guidelines, the zoning ordinance and run counter  to the CC goal of building and promoting a vibrant downtown, runs counter to the  Downtown Parking Management Plan, and runs counter to advice from the city’s parking in-lieu advisor and the advice the city will be receiving from it’s form-based codes advisor.

    2) A disciplined pursuit of downtown reinvestment & redevelopment to build and promote a vibrant downtown (a stated CC goal).

    3) Full expeditious implementation of the Downtown Parking Management Plan.

    4) A functional PC that is well-versed in the city’s planning documents and CC goals. Instead, we have a Mr. Magoo commission that makes it up as it goes along, careening from car wreck to car wreck, making up policy out of thin air, playing fast and loose with alternative facts, torturing definitions, and engaging in incessant speculation.

    5) A vigorous, fact-based, CC debate Tuesday evening that focuses on achieving community goals. I have no problem with a CC that acknowledges that a project violates established city policies, but wishes to take advantage of a previously unrecognized opportunity to significantly advance a community goal. But in such an instance, it’s incumbent upon the CC to clearly explain what that goal is and how it is being advanced by their decision.

    6) A city government that focuses on the ends and develops and implements the means (policies) to achieve those ends. The proper ends, in my view, is always community sustainability (environmental, social & economic).

    Is that really too much to ask?

  3. Michael Bisch

    Nowhere did I say private lots are prohibited. I said private lots fronting the street are prohibited, particularly in the 3rd Street Special Character Area. Did you not read the GP excerpt at the beginning of the article? Private lots are required to be located behind, under or within the building envelope. The GP, CASP, Design Guidelines, zoning ordinance and Downtown Parking Management Plan are all consistent on this. And I guarantee the upcoming form-based code will only strengthen this policy.


      1. Michael Bisch

        No, not just new development. It’s a prohibition that applies to all downtown properties. And like I keep saying, the prohibition is stated multiple times in every single planning document. It’s not some random, quirky Davis thing either. Such prohibitions are ubiquitous in urban planning. The negative impacts on a vibrant downtown are well understood. That’s why the parking is REQUIRED to be tucked out of sight behind, under or within the building envelope. Curb cuts and driveways in a shopping district are aweful too. That’s why parking access is supposed to come from an alley.

        So again, no one is prohibiting Ace from developing a parking lot (although the code discourages it). However, it has to comply with the planning documents so that it doesn’t undermine the community vision for the downtown or the effort to achieve downtown-related community goals.

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