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.