Sunday Commentary: Slow Down on Talk of More Parking Structures

I read with some fascination this morning the column from Davis Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning quoting from a reader who argued for a new parking structure in the Davis Downtown.

Here are a few of the points that were raised:

“Adequate parking is absolutely essential to the health and vitality of the downtown.”

“You simply have to add parking spaces.”

“We have not added significant parking since the two parking garages were built on F Street and G Street.”

“The city councils since around 2000 have done little more than ‘study’ parking and report on it, tinkering with the edges of the issue…”

“Unless and until the City Council builds more parking structures, the situation will continue to deteriorate (after all, UCD and Davis continue to add people). A significant number of housing projects have been approved by the City Council and on campus without adding one additional parking space in the downtown.”

“We need at least one more large parking structure in the downtown. Alternatively, three small parking garages (each adequate for 60 cars) will help a great deal.”

Bob Dunning responds to this with: “That’s a plan that certainly has my vote.”

Will Bob Dunning also support the financing of that plan?  Just wondering.

My response to this is: if only it were all that simple.  There are two basic problems here – the first problem and the reason why we are not currently talking about a parking structure is we do not have money from a parking structure.

We could certainly put a measure to fund such a structure on the ballot – but there is no guarantee it would pass.  The city last June put forward a measure to fund road construction and it received 57 percent of the vote – but that was not enough to reach the two-thirds needed.

The problem here that Bob Dunning hints at the outset of his column, but doesn’t return to: parking is a controversial issue and he notes the controversy around the 15 parking spots at Davis Ace – an issue that was relatively small in scope and privately financed.

So it sounds great to argue that we “simply have to add parking spaces,” but there is not necessarily agreement on this point.

I find it remarkable that neither Bob Dunning nor his confederate address the issue of where the money is going to come from to finance this.

Back in March 2014, the city unveiled the Downtown Parking Management Plan.  That plan has been slowly implemented with the latest push for paid parking generating a lot of controversy.

The basic issue is one of fundamental disagreement – while Bob Dunning believes apparently that the problem is lack of supply – not everyone agrees with that view.  In fact, there is actual data to dispute that view.

Now Mayor Brett Lee back in 2017 argued, “We don’t have a supply issue, we have a parking management issue.”

He sees paid parking as “a very important if not essential tool in the management of demand.”

Bob Dunning and his confederate note that there were two parking garages built and F and G – but neither one is apparently aware that the Parking Garage on G is never filled.  NEVER.

The management advocates argue that we can simply manage existing supply if we find a way to get downtown employees to stop parking on surface streets and move into the garage or even some of the neighborhoods or the city parking lots such as off Richards – a lot that is normally empty.

I have seen the data that the city has on parking during peak hours – and having had to fight for parking near G St during peak hours, I can sympathize with those unhappy at the lack of peak hour availability of parking on surface streets.  But by the same token – I could always parking the G St Parking lot and walk two blocks to my office (during the Spencer Alley renovation) – there was never a time I had to park above the lowest part of the second level.  Never.

I therefore have a hard time advocating for another parking garage when in fact we aren’t even fully utilizing one of the two we already have.

It is also worth noting that the groups actually charged with studying these issues are not the ones pushing for more supply right now.  Expanding Parking Supply was definitely part of the management plan developed in 2014, but it was considered a down the line recommendation – in part because of the financing issue but also because we needed to implement modern management practices first.

We also have recommendation coming out of the DPAC (Downtown Plan Advisory Committee) who are tasked with helping to implement the Core Area Specific Plan.  They have actively solicited input from the community, but their preliminary recommendation is to “prioritize parking management before adding new parking.”

I have talked about the cost considerations and also the management issues, but there is a third point not discussed by either Mr. Dunning or his confederate and that is future use.  A key question that many on the committee have told me is the question as to where future transportation is headed – are we headed toward more cars on the roads, are we headed to a situation where there are more in the community, thus we need more parking, or are we headed in the opposite direction.

The confederate argues that there have been a significant number housing projects approved by the council and on campus – but a lot of those are within walking distance of the downtown – a lot of those folks are students and students increasingly do not have vehicles and likely will not use those vehicles to come downtown in order to search for a parking spot.

The people I have talked to – many of them experts on the subject – believe that before we build a very expensive parking structure, we need to have a better sense for need and the direction of driving as the primary mode of transportation.

It is true we might be able to pass a revenue measure for a downtown parking structure – might is the operative word – but that will come with an opportunity cost – the opportunity not to fund perhaps a more pressing need.

The reason why we have not added a parking structure in over 20 years is therefore complex – it is costly, there is not widespread agreement on the need and there is increasing resistance by segments of this community to simply add more capacity for environmentally unfriendly modes of transportation.

—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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26 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Slow Down on Talk of More Parking Structures”

  1. Don Shor

    The reason why we have not added a parking structure in over 20 years is therefore complex

    The reason why is that we were one vote short on the city council because one member was conflicted out due to ownership of a local business. We had the site, and we had the money. The funds were going to come from the liquidated assets of the redevelopment agency. The site was the lot north of the Kinko’s/Union Bank buildings. Where did those funds go?

    1. Mark West

      It was fortunate that the project was not approved as it was not designed for the future and would have been a huge waste of resources. If we ever build a new parking structure on that site (or anywhere downtown) it should be incorporated as part of a mixed-use redevelopment of the entire block. Stand-alone parking structures are not examples of good city planning.

  2. Darell Dickey

    This type of “more cars in town will make our town better” message misses the fact that CARS do not make a good downtown. People do. And people do not equal cars. When we prioritize a single shopper arriving in a car that takes up enough parking for 12 people on their bikes, we’re shooting our town in the foot.

    I agree that we need more “parking” downtown. But not for cars. We need more parking for people.

    1. Don Shor

      I would assume that a parking structure could accommodate large amounts of bike parking, and would have the added advantage of hopefully getting more of the cars off the street for longer periods of time.

      1. Richard McCann

        Don
        Again, we already have plenty of parking in structures. We probably need to install a “parking counter” about available spaces at the 2 structures we have, like are now in many cities. We have a “shortage” of on-street parking right in front of the place you want to go–that’s just from people unwilling to walk a couple of blocks!

  3. Tia Will

    Bob Dunning and associate seem to be relying, for their needs assessment, not data, but personal preference.

    I am of the needs rather than wants school of building. Whether or not the money was available for a parking garage, would that be the best use of funds given that the G street parking facility does not fill? Could that money not be more productively spent on other transportation needs, such as a “hop on and off shuttle” for the busiest times downtown, or…..fill in any other imaginative way to get folks from point A to point B other than trying to park their personal vehicle as close to their one destination as possible. My observation from my own millennials and from the younger college students is that the tendency is to use a car for long trips or those involving multiple stops in different areas of town, but to use Uber or Lyfte for a night on the town. 

    Trends are changing, and I hope whatever the city decides to do, it will do on the basis of need and trends, not on the basis of “we must have another parking garage because I couldn’t find a spot in the same block when I wanted one”.

  4. Michael Bisch

    As I member of the citizen’s Downtown Parking Task Force, I’d like to correct a number of inaccurate statements in the article and the comments. I do so not because I favor or don’t favor a new parking structure; rather, in the interest of advancing a substantive downtown parking conversation based on fact.
     
    “My response to this is: if only it were all that simple.  There are two basic problems here – the first problem and the reason why we are not currently talking about a parking structure is we do not have money from a parking structure.”
    -David Greenwald
     
    Not so. The citizen task force recommended the parking structure be funded through a combination of paid parking fees, a downtown parcel assessment and city funds. The rational being all beneficiaries would participate in the funding. The parking users pay, the downtown property and business owners pay, and the community pays for their wonderful downtown amenity.
     
    “Now Mayor Brett Lee back in 2017 argued, “We don’t have a supply issue, we have a parking management issue.”
    – David Greenwald
     
    Not so. The data shows we have both issues. At “regular” weekly peak demand times, there is insufficient vacant supply for the pricing mechanism to properly spread the demand around downtown. That said, the citizen task force rightly concluded that paid parking needed to be implemented asap to properly manage the existing supply. That same task force also concluded that the supply was inadequate to meet future needs. Hence, the task force’s comprehensive set of 19 recommendations that included both paid parking and development of an additional parking structure.
     
    “Expanding Parking Supply was definitely part of the management plan developed in 2014, but it was considered a down the line recommendation – in part because of the financing issue but also because we needed to implement modern management practices first.”
    -David Greenwald
     
    Not so. Developing a public parking structure is typically a 5-10 year process. Waiting until the need is pressing is way too late. That’s why the citizen task force recommended that the city immediately initiate the planning process for a new parking structure.
     
    “The reason why is that we were one vote short on the city council because one member was conflicted out due to ownership of a local business.”
    -Don Shor
     
    Not so. The first vote on the 3rd/4th/E/F project was 5-0.  It failed on the 2nd vote because Krovoza and Greenwald reversed their votes only a few months after having first voted in favor of the project. Krovoza reversed himself under heavy bicycle activist lobbying (which is their right). Greenwald reversed herself saying she had never envisioned a 4-story parking structure in our downtown. She said she wanted only a 1-2 story parking structure, which would have made the project one of the most inefficient and expensive (per stall) parking projects ever (and infeasible). By the way, Greenwald’s council comments made clear she was extremely confused between “levels” and “stories”.
     
    As for the conflicted councilmember, Swanson was not conflicted because of the project (she participated in the 1st vote).  She was conflicted because Krovoza during the 1st vote told staff that his support was conditional upon making pedestrian improvements throughout the downtown. Staff than obliged Joe by including the pedestrian improvements in the staff recommendations for the 2nd vote.* The pedestrian improvements then triggered the conflict for Swanson. So Krovoza got a two-fer. He got Swanson conflicted out and he got an opportunity to reverse his earlier vote.
     
    “It was fortunate that the project was not approved as it was not designed for the future and would have been a huge waste of resources. If we ever build a new parking structure on that site (or anywhere downtown) it should be incorporated as part of a mixed-use redevelopment of the entire block. Stand-alone parking structures are not examples of good city planning.”
    -Mark West
     
    The 3rd/4th/E/F was a mixed-use project despite the demagoguery of some project opponents. The entire ground floor was retail apart from the parking ramps. A project encompassing the entire block was never going to be possible short of eminent domain (which the city only rarely has had the stomach for). The inability to assemble the surrounding privately-owned parcels is what had stalled the project for over a decade. It was only when a proposal came forward for just the city-owned piece that the project became viable.
     
    *Ken Hiatt, you never should have fallen for that! 😉

    1. Don Shor

      Not so. The first vote on the 3rd/4th/E/F project was 5-0. It failed on the 2nd vote because Krovoza and Greenwald reversed their votes only a few months after having first voted in favor of the project. Krovoza reversed himself under heavy bicycle activist lobbying (which is their right). Greenwald reversed herself saying she had never envisioned a 4-story parking structure in our downtown. She said she wanted only a 1-2 story parking structure, which would have made the project one of the most inefficient and expensive (per stall) parking projects ever (and infeasible). By the way, Greenwald’s council comments made clear she was extremely confused between “levels” and “stories”.

      As for the conflicted councilmember, Swanson was not conflicted because of the project (she participated in the 1st vote). She was conflicted because Krovoza during the 1st vote told staff that his support was conditional upon making pedestrian improvements throughout the downtown. Staff than obliged Joe by including the pedestrian improvements in the staff recommendations for the 2nd vote.* The pedestrian improvements then triggered the conflict for Swanson. So Krovoza got a two-fer. He got Swanson conflicted out and he got an opportunity to reverse his earlier vote.

      I assume you understand that this does not negate my comment that “The reason why is that we were one vote short on the city council because one member was conflicted out due to ownership of a local business.”
      The vote that failed to yield a parking garage was 2 – 2 – 1. So it failed. I do understand that you are explaining why that happened, but your “Not so” is misplaced here.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      Michael:

      The corrections are appreciated, but I’m not sure my comment was in error. Right now, we do not have money for a parking structure – I’m not sure we have a need for – but even if we did, we don’t have the funding.

      Second, “Developing a public parking structure is typically a 5-10 year process. Waiting until the need is pressing is way too late. That’s why the citizen task force recommended that the city immediately initiate the planning process for a new parking structure.”

      Sorry – I should have clarified that it was staff who recommended the parking structure down the line, not the committee.

    3. Darell Dickey

      >> their wonderful downtown amenity. <<
      If we’re just dealing with facts, I think “wonderful amenity” is misplaced in the correction.
      >> Krovoza reversed himself under heavy bicycle activist lobbying <<
      Is there a source for this fact?
      (and is there a weight limit for being a heavy bicycle activist?)

    4. Alan Miller

      I do so not because I favor or don’t favor a new parking structure . . . and the community pays for their wonderful downtown amenity.

      Seems if the parking structure is deemed ‘wonderful’ by one, one is advocating for a parking structure, no?

  5. Todd Edelman

    We don’t have a supply issue, we have a parking management issue, and this is a part of an access management issue: How is that “bicycles”, “buses” and “taxis” – or “trains” – did not appear in the Commentary, and “walking” only to access parking?
     
    How ‘bout spending millions – a 200 space structure would cost at least $5 to 10 million depending on who you walk to – on system enhancements so that buses run later, run more often and meet all Amtrak trains? That money would also go very far in repairing roads – which are currently annoying for cars and in some cases dangerous for cyclists and will be going straight to hell this winter if it rains a lot  – and improving a few key routes – or to municipalize bike share, currently run exclusively by Uber with the most restrictive rules of ANY bike share in the entire country? And we’d add tricycles and other types of adaptive bikes, and free rain gear. Or let’s say we spend that money on something transport-related but not directly addressing Downtown?

    Therefore, I would like to propose as a mechanism a new measure – perhaps  Measure X – which is a choice between something really stupid and really smart, but not only does everyone have to decide which is which, one gets passed even if few decide to vote on it. The one with more votes wins, even if it’s two votes and the other gets one.Measure X 2020:Choice no. 1) Parking structure.Choice no. 2) School bus system.One of these is stupid and the other reduces traffic (danger, and pollution) whilst increasing the independence of children and saving parents lots of time when they would otherwise be driving.

  6. Michael Bisch

    So, again, I’m restricting myself to correcting inaccurate assertions that deviate from the public record. I’m not taking a position one way or another….especially since conditions have changed since 2014.

    “We don’t have a supply issue, we have a parking management issue, and this is a part of an access management issue: How is that “bicycles”, “buses” and “taxis” – or “trains” – did not appear in the Commentary, and “walking” only to access parking?” 
    -Todd Edelman

    Not so. The data provided the citizen task force showed that utilization regularly exceeded Schoup’s 85%. The vacant 15% is inadequate to allow the pricing mechanism to function properly. It results in too much circling, waiting for parked cars to vacate, conflict between different transportation modes, frustration, etc. This was not the citizen task force’s data, this was the data and research, including Shoup’s, that was presented to the task force.
     
    As for the methods for reducing demand that Todd mentions, these were included in the 19 recommendation.

  7. Robb Davis

    I too was a member of the task force and disagree with Michael on a few points:

    The data shows we have both issues. At “regular” weekly peak demand times, there is insufficient vacant supply for the pricing mechanism to properly spread the demand around downtown. 

    In fact, the data shows and has shown for a long time that there is vacancy (as David pointed out) in the 4th and G garage, which is, a parking structure.
    I also think Michael is mis-interpreting Shoup when he says:

    The data provided the citizen task force showed that utilization regularly exceeded Schoup’s (sic) 85%.  The vacant 15% is inadequate to allow pricing mechanism to function properly.

    Shoup never said that 85% point in time occupancy means that a pricing mechanism won’t work.  The 85% is the theoretical point at which there is not at least one spot per block face open and this causes increased traffic circulation and congestion as people circle the block.  In such cases the FIRST step, according to Shoup, should be to adjust pricing—require people to pay for parking—in order to sort those who are price sensitive (willing to seek options further from their destination) and those who are willing to pay for the privilege to park close to their destination.  With the 4th and G garage nearly always having vacant spaces, parking farther away is usually an option.  As is parking in free sports in Old North and Old East Davis (for example).  This is what is meant by parking management. 

    Finally, aside from the 3rd/4th/E/F surface lot there is no clear downtown or peripheral to downtown location where a new structure could be easily placed.  I will let Michael remind us whether, even at the time of the 3rd/4th/E/F vote, the City had procured agreement on private property owners on the site to redevelop it—or whether the City was proposing property acquisition via an eminent domain process.  I really don’t remember. 

    As to Don’s earlier question of what happened to RDA funds… That question has been dealt with from time to time by Rich Rifkn.  Before the RDA was actually dissolved by the state, the City Council voted to bond against the remaining balance to preserve access to it.  That money has sat in two funds since 2011 (I believe) while the RDA was unwound.  My understanding is now that the City has resolved all outstanding property liquidations (there may be one minor one remaining), the City will have access to a part, but not all, that money.  The city will pay back the bonds over the next 25 years or so gaining access to around $5 million of the over $11 million that was bonded (don’t hold me to either figure but it was something like that).

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Hadn’t actually occurred to me. It’s actually frequently used in research articles that discuss types of experimental design where an apparent participant is actually in league with the experimenter.

        2. Alan Miller

          I too was a member of the task force. 
          (2003-ish)
          Pretty much agree with this: 

          I therefore have a hard time advocating for another parking garage when in fact we aren’t even fully utilizing one of the two we already have.

          The only legitimate reason to build a parking structure at this point is to house the cars of residents of multiple, multi-story mixed-use projects taking the place of parking lots and one-story businesses in downtown.  But I don’t see that happening anytime soon, despite the general plan to do so.
          As for retail/restaurant parking, most people just circle until they find a place.  A mess, but maybe the solution is to pay people to park in parking structures (kidding, but you get my point).

    1. Alan Miller

      Yeah, pretty much rehashing the same ideas as 2003 as well, running into the same obstacles.  The one thing that got done was the Regal Lot on Olive, though it took a decade and a half.

  8. Ron Glick

    It seems to me that we should reconsider continued reliance on a five year old study that is in certain ways outdated and we should now have the empirical experience to see some of these flaws.
    As an example, the task force recommended, and the city implemented a permit system for employees to get them to pay to park in certain lots all day. It should have been obvious at the time that this wouldn’t work, but it wasn’t, so the city proceeded with the plan despite the fact that the city was asking low wage workers to pay for something that with a little effort they could get for free. Now with the passage of time and the underutilization of the designated lots and the employees continuing to shuffle cars around it should be time to try something different from the pages of behavioral economics that might better effect the city getting downtown employees to park in the underutilized designated places. Perhaps it is time to consider incentivizing workers to use these underutilized spaces by giving them free permits to park in these underutilized  lots for unlimited time during the day.
    This would be the correct way to employ the theory of behavioral economics that is the idea that its easier to get people to do things if you incentivize the behavior you want. Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017 for Behavioral Economics so although the theory had been around there is a good chance the task force was not aware of it.

  9. Ron Glick

    One other thing and I don’t know if this was included in the Task Force work or not. For those of us on the Westside of Davis there is no bus that takes us directly downtown. The east and south parts of town don’t have this problem since downtown is before the hubs at UC along these routes. If I want to take a bus downtown I have to take a bus to the University wait around and switch busses. This is inconvenient and time wasting and is known in transportation planning as the last mile problem. Before building new Parking structures or implementing more paid parking it would be wise and relatively inexpensive for the city to work with Unitrans to solve this problem. There are many solutions but it seems the simplest would be to extend the runs from the west from UC to downtown to a hub at the train station. It could also alleviate some of the parking problem at the train station if people on the Westside could take a bus directly there.

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