Sunday Commentary: Should We Create Places in Town for People with Fewer Cars?

The issue of parking is of course a critical issue in Davis that seems to pop up every time there is a new proposed development.  What is interesting of course is the fact that it is an issue not every sees eye to eye on.

Some people believe we need more parking, some believe we need less parking.

When the neighbors appealed the city staff’s approval of the B Street Residence project, they raised the issue of parking.  As Jennifer Wolfe told the Vanguard, “They are proposing inadequate parking for 13 units, which will force renters to park on side streets (the city took away all parking at all times on B Street).”

In their letter, they note, “When reading the Guide to Infill Development on the City of Davis website, it seems that parking is not really considered. This seems like a glaring omission. Choosing to have the residents of the eleven different units park on a side street is going to present a problem. There is not adequate space for eleven or more vehicles.”

Eileen Samitz in a comment on the Vanguard added that “11 units with only 13 parking spaces when there is no parking on B St. in (the) vicinity was a terrible plan.  It will just push the parking needs onto the surrounding neighborhoods.”

It is worth noting that, while the Planning Commission voted 4-3 to uphold the appeal (rejecting the project), they did not cite parking as a reason for the denial.

It seemed like a good idea to start with the city’s ordinances and codes as to parking requirements.  Section 40.25.090(h) lays out the requirements for multi-family dwellings: “Dwellings, multiple, one for each efficiency apartment, one for each one bedroom apartment, one and three-fourths for each two bedroom apartment and two for each three or more bedroom apartment. Where the total number of spaces required by this subsection calls for a fraction of a space of one-half or greater, it shall require the provision of one full space.”

However under a 2013 ordinance, there are incentives for reduction: “Should a business or institution be interested in going above and beyond the bicycle parking requirements and amenities as specified in this article, certain measures can be taken. The director of community development or her/his designee reserves the right to implement certain incentives to help assist the implementation of increased bicycle amenities, such as, locker rooms, showers, or indoor secure bicycle parking. Potential incentives may include offsetting the required number of vehicle parking spaces (two spaces maximum or five percent of required vehicle parking), or other design requirements to accommodate space for secure bicycle parking, and other bicycle commuter amenities.”

As the Planning Commission staff report explains, “The project proposes a total of 16 bedrooms and 13 on-site parking spaces.

“The City has an adopted a Bicycle Ordinance that allows the Director of Community Development to implement certain incentives including offsetting the required number of vehicle parking spaces by a maximum of 2 spaces for projects going above and beyond the bicycle parking requirements and amenities as specified in the ordinance. Under this provision, the project parking has been offset by two parking spaces, from 15 to 13, for providing increased bicycle amenities including individual secure bicycle parking lockers within each covered parking space on the site.”

The big question here is whether a parking management plan is going to work.  The developer of this project, Kemble Pope, explained to council on Tuesday that the parking is separated from rent.  In order to get a parking spot on site, the tenant would have to pay $100 a month – a fairly steep charge.

The neighbors are naturally concerned that, with limitation already on parking on B Street, this will push parking out into the neighborhoods.  Staff on Tuesday explained that the residents here would be ineligible to receive a parking permit to go to A Street, but, as Brett Lee pointed out, they could park on 9th Street.

Brett Lee pointed out that 9th Street “is already a somewhat difficult place to park.”

Mayor Robb Davis noted that with his building, owned by Chuck Roe, they charge $40 a month and he said only three people of the six in his building have taken advantage of that.  “I think that’s an effective way to disincentivize people from having extra cars.  It’s worked where I live.”

The difference of course is that Robb Davis lives downtown, and you would not be able to keep an extra car on the street.  However, if there are areas near this project where people can park on the street, it seems like the neighbors do have a point that this would simply push the parking into the neighborhoods.

But there is a simple solution for this and that is to have required permits along 9th Street which should solve this problem.

The intention here is clear – the council, the city, others want to disincentivize people from having extra cars, especially in the core area of the city.  People will naturally question whether you can structure the parking situation in such a way to do that.  And clearly it is a work in progress, but that is the goal.

As Rochelle Swanson pointed out, parking is an issue here, but she argued that “people should be biking and walking given where this is located.”

I get it, there are going to be people who push back and argue that the city should not be attempting to create incentives for biking and alternative transportation, but I have to disagree here.

The idea here is simple: if people want to own two or three cars, they are either going to have to pay for the extra parking spaces – and my guess is at $100 per month per car, there will be additional capacity for multiple cars – or they should live somewhere else.

This is not the place to live for a family that has three cars.  And they are already making it so that students are going to have a tough time living there, with requirements that will prevent co-signing the lease.

Can people find ways to get around the parking requirements?  Probably.  The city will eventually have to look into permitting on 9th Street, just as they’ve done elsewhere in the neighborhood.  But that is a tweak.

We need to change our mindset that everyone is entitled to have two cars and live wherever they want. I’m not arguing to eliminate cars, only arguing that we can have places that are built for people who either don’t have cars or have fewer cars.

At $100 a month for parking, that’s more than I pay for my downtown spot ($75) for the Vanguard parking spot.  That will leave quite a few spaces available.  The city’s job will be to make sure they close down alternatives where people can go to avoid that fee and the intention of the rule – which is to encourage people not to have cars when they live in this area of town.

—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

    We need to change our mindset that everyone is entitled to have two cars and live wherever they want.

    Exactly what some of us have been saying.  You can’t always live where you want, if one can’t afford an area they have to live where they can pay their bills.

  2. Greg Rowe

    This is an interesting concept that merits further discussion.  I’ve been on the fence on the parking issue for some time. I’ve seen and experienced examples in which attempts to discourage single occupancy vehicles have failed, and failed badly.  It can regarded as an attempt at social engineering. Best example that comes to mind is back in the early 1990s, when the California Air Resources Board (ARB) misinterpreted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations by trying to restrict the number of flights, passengers and parking spaces at Sacramento International Airport (SMF).  The idea, of course, was to improve air quality.  After a few years it was discovered that restricting parking spaces did not make people take transit to the airport. It actually caused “double tripping” because people leaving on a flight would have a friend, neighbor or relative drive them to the airport and pick them up on their return, resulting in  2 round trips to SMF instead of one, and of course, double the smog-producing emissions.  (ARB’s efforts were eventually ruled unconstitutional, in violation of the interstate commerce clause and supremacy clause of the federal constitution.)

    Another example is the employee parking fees at UC Med Center in Sacramento. To avoid the parking fees, some staff  still drive but park blocks away (some adjacent to Sac High School), and then walk from there to work.  A further example demonstrates the dynamics at work in dual-income families. I once worked in downtown Sacramento with a gentleman who lived in Vacaville. When I asked him why he drove to work from such a distant location he replied that his wife worked in downtown San Francisco, so Vacaville was a logical midway point between their 2 jobs.  That personal choice made sense for them. As some have pointed out, the B Street development would not appeal to people in their situation.

    These examples made me somewhat leery of restricting the number of parking spaces at the proposed Nishi project.  I felt the residents would in many cases just park elsewhere.  In terms of the B Street project perhaps it will turn out that of the residents comprised of couples or partners, at least one person will have a job at UCD or elsewhere in Davis that would allow them to walk or bike to work.  That would enable them to get by with just one car. For now, however, that’s an uncertain outcome.  Potential residents will either decide to live elsewhere if each person in a household has a car, or they’ll be people who don’t need that many vehicles.  In the meantime, David’s idea may be a housing policy worth exploring.


    1. Todd Edelman

      And now how frequent, fast and reasonably priced is a trip by public transportation from all points in the region? (The future light rail from the Sac to the Airport may be frequent and priced okay, but it will not be fast)

      Why are employees (or residents) allowed to park anywhere aside from the paid parking? In principle is there any reason to not have citywide and city-periphery parking permits?

      Vacaville in the middle:
      How does Capitol Corridor not work for them? Too slow? Too far from its termini? Too expensive? (Energy for private motor vehicles is priced too low but sadly – very, very sadly – there’s a limit to how much can this can effected by regional or even state policy).

      1. Frank Reyes

        Hi Todd,

        A note regarding your “Vacaville in the middle” statement:

        Capitol Corridor is actually deep into construction on a Vacaville station set to be complete in October of this year (2017). Since I ride the CC on my way to work around 2 times a week (hopefully more soon! #lovemytraincommute) I can say construction is actually coming along very nicely and I would be very surprised if the station runs behind schedule.

  3. Todd Edelman

    The City of Davis is headed in the right direction with things like parking permits, increase of fees and unbundling, and it should steadily and just slightly un-painlessly continue on this path. Still, there are some concepts, strategies and realities that seem to be mistakenly un-present in both municipal code and subject matter of relevant media outlets.

    I suggest that, come autumn, the Planning Commission and the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission form a joint ad hoc committee that discusses and deals with the following issues and more, recommends that the City Council implement new policies including the creation of a full-time position in Public Works dedicated to parking, or integrating their tasks into that of what I understand is an already-approved position for a Downtown paid parking officer, or simply ensuring that the two people in these new positions work together:
    Removing parking minimums – Making it possible for any new residential or commercial to have no parking, no in-lieu fees and creating an impact fee that pays a fare share for access – not or not only parking – to the development. (The latter is already on the menu of the Planning Commission and the Downtown Core Area Plan, right?)
    Creating parking maximums – An absolute cap.

    Cost of constructing parking – Upon acquisition of a learner’s permit , every teenager or new driver should know that an underground parking space costs $40,000 to build (see pg. 4/90) and above ground only 25% less, so that when see (former) Mayor Davis they can congratulate him and his wife for not spending about 60 years of their lives paying for a parking space in their building.

    (continued on Google Docs…)

  4. Nancy Price

    One clear possibility for parking is: Build a narrow urban forest at Nishi along the freeway and  at the Western narrow end and then build a three-four tiered parking structure with solar on the roof  and green planting on the sides and then have a shuttle service. With Cap and Trade extended along with the Cap and Trade funds already accumulated, the city should investigate applying for such funds to assist the city and the developer to accomplish this as soon as possible.

    Consideration of improving parking at the rail station is very important, though for the duration of improving would be disruptive, but very necessary with pedestrian walk over the tracks to South Davis.

    Ever since a few of us, myself included saved Central Park, there has been talk of closing Third Street to traffic. for a smooth link to the University and bike traffic. There could be bike racks along third street, good shuttle service, etc. .  Is it time to consider this?

    1. Howard P

      You and the others did not “save Central Park”… you folk expanded it (more than doubling its size), spent a lot of money to remove Fourth Street, build the Farmer’s Market structure, the Teen center (now, Bicycle museum), eliminated a possible major economic engine (then known as Arden-Mayfair commercial site), made sure that City Offices could not go there, ensuring DJUSD a huge windfall for the old HS site, which the City spent a hell of a lot of money on, to remodel it (several times), etc.

      Central Park, as it existed, was not in danger.  
      [moderator] edited

    2. David Greenwald

      We are still talking about building parking rather than making it easier for people to get around without cars and I think that moves us in the wrong direction.

      1. Mark West

        Of all the experts that have come to town talking about revitalizing the downtown, how many of them advocated removing automobiles from the streets? I may well be wrong, but I don’t recall any of them pushing the idea. My own experience is that when you remove the autos you end up killing commerce on that street. If that is the goal, then go ahead and make 3rd street car free. If your goal is to have an economically vibrant and sustainable downtown, teach people to coexist (and learn the rules of the road).

        1. Mark West

          Mine was a more general comment that probably should have been nested under Nancy’s, as she was the one calling for the closing of 3rd Street to cars.

          A more direct response to your comment would be that many of the suggestions that have been made for making it easier to get around without a car were developed in areas with much greater population densities than are found in Davis. The City, for the most part, is too spread out for them to be successful here. Increase our housing density and they will become better options.

  5. Eileen Samitz

    “This is not the place to live for a family that has three cars.”



    You state this in your article, but this is not the issue. No one would disagree with this statement, however, what happens when even 2-3  residents (or more) of the 11 apartments at B St. Residences residents have friends over for dinner, which is likely to happen on weekends? With no parking on B St. in this vicinity where do all the guests park? It just pushes the problem to the neighboring neighborhoods.

    Again, this was not an issue.  The neighbors did not object to more density at this site, it is about the project being over-densified and the other consequences included the removal of 4 beautiful, decades old Oak trees because this project was shoe-horned in. Its not about increasing density, its about how much.

    Finally, what about the safety issues that have been brought up that a traffic study should have been done first before this project was rushed through the process? Since the removal of parking of B St. there is likely to be more bicyclists using that route so the B St. residents would be adding even more circulation to the area. Yet, nobody seems to want to talk about that. Why wasn’t the traffic study done first to evaluate the safety issues? Instead, it was rushed through at the behest of the developer.

    The issue is that infill and densification is supposed to be compatible and work with the surroundings, and projects like this are just jamming in over-sized projects in, with impacts that will take their toll on the neighborhoods. It is unnecessary to cram in an over-sized project which will just make the community hate infill. The infill guidelines were written to avoid that and the City and the developers need to have more respect for these infill guidelines.

    1. David Greenwald

      The neighbors did object to the parking situation. It was contained in both Jennifer Wolfe’s email to me and their letter. I laid out the current rules, where they came from, and how the issue could be addressed.

      1. Eileen Samitz


        Yes, the neighbors objected and they had every right to be concerned. What you continue to ignore is that all of the parking was removed on B St. in this vicinity, so that factor impacts this situation significantly. Even Brett Lee explained how parking on the next street over on 9th St. is already difficult and now it will be even worse. I don’t think that your suggestion of parking permits is going to be a popular solution, nor your affirmation that not all families can expect to have two cars.

        I am certainly not against encouraging fewer cars, however the reality is Davis does not have the robust public transit  system, nor does it seem to be planning for it, to support a massive elimination of cars.  The result is most families with children and two working parents need a second vehicle to manage getting their kids to where they need to be (school, doctors appointment, sports) etc. . For instance, why doesn’t Davis even have a school bus system, particularly for the high school since we only have one high school? That would be a very effective way to reduce traffic and cars on the road within Davis.

        So my point is there would need to be far more investment in expanding Davis public transit system and infrastructure needed for your recommendations to work of the elimination of so many cars. The only places that car reduction is working is in larger city’s which have widespread and effective public transit systems.

        1. David Greenwald

          And these houses aren’t designed for working parents with kids, they are primarily for working people or non-families. People who need two cars are either going to have to pay for parking or live somewhere else. Why is that so hard?

        2. Mark West

          “the reality is Davis does not have the robust public transit  system…to support a massive elimination of cars.”

          “So my point is there would need to be far more investment in expanding Davis public transit system and infrastructure needed for your recommendations to work…”

          This, to me, sounds like the classic argument of someone intent on blocking change. We don’t have a robust public transit system so therefore we cannot densify. The obvious problem is that robust public transit systems only function when there is sufficient population density, which we currently do not have. So which comes first, the densification or the public transit (the chicken or the egg)?

          The answer is that they should evolve together. If the City Council announced tomorrow that they would approve every six-story mixed-use project that makes it on to their agenda, we would still be looking at decades before the population density of the core area will support a robust public transit system. Remember, it takes time for projects to wind their way through the ‘Davis Spanking Machine’ so only a few projects each year could ever be approved. As a consequence, the population density of the City, and the ‘parking/traffic problems’ that Eileen fears, will actually increase very slowly.

          At some point, though, during that change, there will be sufficient demand generated to support a small public transit project, perhaps a free shuttle service that orbits around the downtown incorporating the various peripheral parking locations and the shops/restaurants. As densification expands from the core, that shuttle service may also expand to bring folks into the core from the higher density residential areas. Ultimately, if we densify sufficiently, we may be able to justify the rail passenger changes that Todd has been arguing for, but by that time I expect that the rail passenger system will have been replaced by some new technology. Remember, we are talking about decades from now, not tomorrow.

          If we want the City to thrive it needs to evolve with the changing environment today. No matter what we do, that change will occur very slowly, but it won’t happen at all if we listen to Eileen’s arguments against change.

        3. David Greenwald

          Something I don’t get – I know tons of people who dont drive – they bike everywhere.  yes, most of them are either retired or work at the university – but that’s what this housing should be for.  If you need to drive a car or more than one at least, this isn’t the place for you.  why is that so difficult.

        4. Eileen Samitz


          The problem is that more densification is ok as long as it is not over-densification.  Over-densification brings more impacts than benefits, particularly to the surrounding neighborhoods. This is not only about the parking problem it will create, but what about the 4 large, mature Oaks that are being sacrificed because this project is being shoe-horned in? Also, the issue I raised is where do guests of 2-3 or more residences park who come over for a gathering at B St. Residences when there is no parking on B St.?

          You still have not responded to the traffic study and circulation safety issues either. Why was that not done first? Why was the B St. Residences project rushed through?


        5. Eileen Samitz


          You can theorize all you want on expanding the transit in Davis, but why not have that planned first and also please explain where the funding is coming from to provide it? I would love to see more and better public transit in Davis as well as shelters at every bus stop so riders are not exposed year round to the elements of blistering sun in the summer and rain and wind in the winter. Yet, apparently even that can’t seem to be accomplished, while it would also have the benefit of inviting more ridership. Also, what about a school busing system that would reduce car trips significantly in town?

        6. Frank Reyes

          Hi Eileen,

          As a Unitrans driver during my time in undergrad I can confirm that there is a bus line specifically designated for Holmes Junior High and Davis High School (T line). This line is actually very popular with those students as are the perimeter lines (both the P and Q lines) for transporting these students to and from their respective campus. Also, to be noted, Unitrans does provide a “tripper” bus to provide an on time departure from the 14th and Oak stop for the Q line in the afternoon. This provided a reliable alternative to students leaving the high school when university students overwhelm the Q line between 3 and 6pm.

        7. Mark West

          “but why not have that planned first”

          Because we won’t have the population density to justify it for a decade or more. The demand for the service will increase incrementally with the densification and when there is sufficient demand, the service will be created. Your desire that we wait to densify until the service is created is just an attempt at obstructing any and all change.

          As to your school bus idea…like I said before, you crack me up.

  6. Jim Hoch

    If the cited made the entire central/old north Davis top Covell preferential parking and charged $5/month for the permit it would both raise revenue and lower the number of cars on the street.

    It would also be helpful for Picnic Day.

    There is lots of parking in the area, people find it easier to park on the street rather than in their own driveways.



  7. Howard P

    Every SF house, with a two car garage, and two spaces on the driveway, provides “places in town for people with fewer [or no] cars”.

    Same with MF… every MF unit in town provides for the same.  I know, as I was ‘carless’ in Davis for 5 years… no problems finding a place…

    Have never been excluded by owning no, or ‘fewer’ cars…


  8. Todd Edelman

    Something like 1/3 of families in Copenhagen have cargo bikes mainly used for carrying kids too young to ride on their or quickly enough. Sure, it’s also level but denser than Davis by far, but overall the weather is less conducive to cycling. Not all families in Davis can get by with no cars, but perhaps 1/3 can regularly transport kids by cargobike.

    There’s no rocket science necessary to achieve this, but the City needs to support it – with e.g. parking, as I mentioned – and promote it – perhaps buy ten electric-assist cargo bikes that can carry up to four small kids or two larger kids and shopping, lend each to a family for a month and have them blog about their experience.  The bikes, marketing and insurance would cost about $50,000, not so different than the price of constructing a single parking space for a car.

    Another difference between here and the Danish capitol is that the costs of driving are significantly more internalized there then they are here (we calll this “more expensive”). They are being real; we are being fake. They are honest; we think that freedom is a selfish activity. Still… we can carrot all we want, but it’ll only grow if we accept that a stick is also necessary. 9th St. etc can also have temporary spaces reserved by smartphone and paid for by residents for their visitors who really can’t come by bike: Getting to B and 8th is perhaps one of the safest journeys by bike – outside of campus, once you’re on campus – from some quite distant areas such as Northstar via Covell Park Greenbelts, the E. Covell bridge, Community Park and B; Wildhorse via the E. Covell undercrossing, south to Loyola, Drexel and under the train tracks through Community Park to B; South Davis (almost) via a near-future complete Putah Creek path via Nishi and the Arboretum to B, and Village Homes via Greenbelts over 113 then to Villanova/14th to B….

      1. Jim Hoch

        Many people do and would be better served by living in “car friendly” locations. The question is whether “car unfriendly” housing can be built. One person who comments here believes that the standard should be what if everyone who lives there wants to throw a big party at the same time?

        People should be able to chose.



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