Sunday Commentary: Paid Parking is Controversial but Also Misunderstood


There are a lot of misconceptions about the nature of the parking problem in the Davis Downtown.  I fully agree with the comment made back in 2017 by now-Mayor Brett Lee: “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.”

For about six months from July until January, I had the experience of working downtown where my normal paid parking space was unavailable.  That generally meant I had to street park.  Because I move my car a lot there were generally three locations I ended up parking.

When I got there in the morning and sometimes when I arrived during off-peak hours I would be able to park on G Street right near the entrance to my office.  When things got busier and the street filled up, usually late morning and mid-afternoon, I would go into the small G Street lot where Ace used to be and park there.

Occasionally when street parking filled up, I would have to go to the G and 4th parking garage.  I never saw that garage fill past the turn of the first level.  Never.

That means even when I arrived during peak hours – heck, even on Halloween when downtown was literally jammed with people – there was always available parking downtown within two blocks of my office.

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 E-St-parking-lot-midday-neighborhoods or the city parking lots such as off Richards – a lot that is normally empty.

I don’t have a particular problem with building another parking structure – but it is far from clear that we need it, and the bigger problem is that, while we once had resources to build one, we don’t have the funding anymore.

I read Bob Dunning’s column this week and I really don’t think he understands the issues.

He writes: “With all due respect to shading the language, this is more than a perception, folks. It’s reality. There is, indeed, a shortage of places to park downtown.”

It’s simply not true.  There is a shortage of places to park on the street during peak hours (but not off-peak hours), but there is not an overall shortage of places to park downtown.

Moreover, he quotes this: “As one element of the Downtown Parking Management Plan the City Council has approved the concept of charging a fee to park in some of the public spaces which are currently free in order to open up more parking spots for downtown visitors and customers.”

He then responds: “I don’t see how opening up parking spots by driving away some of those very customers who now park for free will necessarily create more business. In fact, logic tells you it will create fewer customers.”

Except that is not what will happen.  What will happen is that people like me who work downtown will not park in paid spots (unless it’s my off-street monthly spot).  We will go to the parking garage or the X-permit lots on the periphery of downtown and open up parking spaces to customers.

That’s an important park of managing the current supply that is not happening.  As convenient as it is to park outside on G Street, I should not be taking up a free parking spot that could go to a customer.

Furthermore, what we are calling “free parking” is not really free.  That parking has a cost even though we are not directly paying for it.  Instead, businesses and taxpayers are paying for the parking right now.  By charging a nominal fee, we can recoup those costs and either break even on enforcement or perhaps start saving money for another parking structure if we really deem that necessary.

Paid parking is a tool that distributes the actual costs to the people parking.  That shifts the incentive from a straight up calculation as to the closest location to their destination requiring the least amount foot travel to a trade off between cost and convenience for a customer.  For an employee who is going to come and park for eight hours, parking in an X-permit lot for free is now more feasible than paying for eight hours of street parking.

A key question that I have not seen addressed is this one: will paid parking make people less likely to go downtown?

Start with this point: right now, does the parking situation downtown make people less likely to come?  That’s a topic that does not come up that much, but I think we should take into consideration.

The second point is a fair one.  Will adding a few nominal dollars and some hassle for paying for parking make people less likely to come downtown?  We see, in many other cities, paid parking requirements.  Where I grew up in San Luis Obispo, we had parking meters and had to pop in quarters, or parking garages where the first 90 minutes were free.  Paid parking didn’t seem to discourage downtown customers there.

Would you drive to Woodland rather than go downtown?  There are all sorts of problems with that (let’s call it a) threat.  The first is that it’s illogical.  You’re going to pay a lot more to drive 15 to 20 extra miles, in both gas and wear on your car, than you would on parking.

Second, most people are not coming to downtown Davis for its retail – they are coming to have their coffee, drink their beer, eat their meal – there is no real alternative to that.

There is no real outside downtown replacement for the restaurants and entertainment.  I suppose you could go to Sacramento, but then again, you’d be paying for parking.

Change is hard, but unless RDA (Redevelopment Agency) funding comes back, I just don’t see a realistic alternative to paid parking.  But maybe the anti-paid parking folks will accept a $50 a year parcel tax in lieu of paid parking.  There are alternatives we probably have not discussed.

—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: Paid Parking is Controversial but Also Misunderstood”

  1. Ron Glick

    “There are alternatives we probably have not discussed.”

    There is a lot in this article to discuss but let’s start with the alternatives that have been promised that are not being followed through upon.

    As you know David, since you were in the room when I spoke at public comment recently and read excepts from a transcript from the November 7, 2017 meeting where the council directed staff to come forward with a plan on more paid parking, the council majority clearly directed staff to include a validation system for customers of businesses located downtown. During the discussion staff was  twice directly asked about a validation system, first by Member Swanson and again by Member Frierichs.

    In both cases the lead staff person explicitly told the council, in open session before the public, that a validation system can be implemented. Yet in the latest proposal there is no validation system proposed.

    I personally followed up with Member Swanson in the days following that meeting in 2017 and complained that they were “Putting meters in, right in front of where I went for coffee everyday.”

    She tried to assuage my concerns by reiterating the I would be “golden” because of the validation program.

    I feel that I have been lied to, both personally by Swanson, and generally, along with the rest of the community, by that council and the staff during the meeting where the validation system was promised as a basis for going forward with the program.

    By the way, I went to a DDBA meeting and when the validation system came up the business owners wanted such a program but were dismissed by city staff who said that their “Consultant says that those programs are out of favor.”

    So it appears the public and the business owners want it, the council directed that it be included, and staff says it can be done, but everyone is getting blocked by a consultant. As I asked at the council, “Who is running this show?”

    1. Alan Miller

      I would say the consultant is taking the political fallout, for who is actually making the directive.  Typical government ploy.

      But what is the issue? Go to a coffee vendor away from downtown, and starve the downtown businesses. Problem solved.

  2. Ron Glick

    Secondly the hours of operation are 10am-10pm, seven days a week. (Not even Sacramento charges on Sunday!) This is more of a tax (they call it a fee) on parking than a management tool because the times when parking is impacted is restricted to a few hours a day around lunch and dinner. The rest of the time this isn’t needed as David attests in his article so the only explanation that makes sense is that this is a money grab.

    As for the added expense of going to Woodland, where parking is free. If I go to a movie in Woodland the tickets are a few dollars cheaper per person, the snacks are cheaper, the parking is free saving another $3 or more if you want to stay in downtown before or after the show. If you live in many parts of Davis its not 15-20 extra miles to Woodland but only 5 -10. If you are a family or taking a bunch of kids to the movies the economics of going to the movies in Woodland that is now already competitive becomes even more so. So this makes the downtown less competitive and since many people go to movies and then go out for food, coffee or a treat this will likely lead to an overall loss of business for this particular activity in Davis.

  3. Alan Miller

    G and 4th parking garage.  I never saw that garage fill past the turn of the first level.  Never.

    I don’t have a particular problem with building another parking structure – but it is far from clear that we need it

    Far from clear?  Your first sentence, if not just anecdotal, makes the answer to the question of the value of that very expensive solution quite clear.

  4. Don Shor

    Will adding a few nominal dollars and some hassle for paying for parking make people less likely to come downtown?

    Would you drive to Woodland rather than go downtown?

    Second, most people are not coming to downtown Davis for its retail – they are coming to have their coffee, drink their beer, eat their meal – there is no real alternative to that.

    There are eight neighborhood shopping center outside the downtown, each of which provides most or all of those options.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Agreed… and some isolated ones… ex:  Konditeri… and a good option… surrounded by PD, a convalescent/adult health care facility, and SF residential.  Konditeri used to be on Third, close to the tracks… i.e. Core Area… now, in Mace Ranch Park.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      There is definitely coffee around town, but there aren’t a lot of our higher end restaurants outside of downtown. Also learned recently people actually are coming to town for some of our beer options.

  5. Laurie Rollins

    I don’t mind paying a buck for parking so that we can enjoy eating lunch or dinner, seeing a movie, or shopping downtown.  But I do mind paying more than that.  We are already having more meals at home, in Winters and in Woodland than we used to.  We are too old to park in the 4th street garage and walking up to Bernardo’s, The Mustard Seed, etc.  We frequently have our 99.5 year old mom with us who has a hard time walking that far and navigating the tree-damaged sidewalks downtown.

    1. Ron Glick

      Sadly this is another deception sold by the council back in November of 17. Mayor Robb Davis spoke about people being willing to pay 50 cents to be downtown and Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee talked about people paying 25 cents to park. Both of them were underselling the true costs of paid parking. The reality is that if you want to go downtown for the two hours that you are currently allowed it will cost you a dollar or two depending on the time of day or night. If you want to stay longer to see a movie it will likely cost you at least $3.

      The truth is that the City Council and staff want the millions of dollars a year that paid parking will generate. Additionally, meters make it easier to write tickets for those who are tardy getting back to their vehicles than under the current system, another goldmine for the city.  Don’t expect this to end here. Just like the E Street Plaza, paid parking wasn’t the end but only the beginning, it will only be a matter of time before paid parking is extended to Fifth St. and over to the Farmers Market. By implementing the program slowly in pieces the CC and staff hope to reduce the protests from the public. Same with the prices charged, you can expect them to go up over time. Finally, how long before the free parking at the 4th and G garage ends? The city doesn’t own that garage but has a thirty year deal for use that ends sometime in the not too distant future but the CC and staff never mention what the plan is for when the lease on that property expires.

        1. Ron Glick

          Well what would you call it when they already were charging  $1dollar/hour on E St.? Math impaired? You want to be generous and say they misstated the true costs, go ahead.

        2. Robb Davis

          I am not “math impaired” as far as I know.  I never stated that 50 cents was going to be the cost of paid parking.  The point I was making is that some people are willing to pay a small amount for the privilege of parking close to their destination.  Others are not.  It turns out the 50 cents may be what is actually charged per hour.  But I never said that was the number.

          The reason I know I never stated that this would be the cost is because I was and remain agnostic about the price.  There is ample evidence, for example, that dynamic pricing works during periods of high demand and I was actually pushing for that, as well as graduated payments for longer stays.

          I also want to remind folks that I NEVER stated that I believed the revenue from paid parking could be used to build a structure. In fact, looking at the numbers from other cities, it was clear early on that the amount of revenue generated is small, covering the cost of maintenance of equipment and paying for enforcement at most.  Any net revenue after that, I argued then and believe now, should be recycled back into the district in which it is generated.

          There is no reason it should not go into the General Fund.  Annual reporting on revenue from paid parking should be the norm and then the City Council can, at its discretion, allocate it for projects in the zone.  Requiring a special fund is not necessary.

        3. Ron Glick

          Okay Robb, I checked, you did say that you didn’t think that people paying 50 cents or a dollar to park in the downtown for an hour was onerous.  I remember thinking at the time that E St was already a dollar/hour so I believed that you were understating the rates and in fact I still do because I expect the rates to go up and that the proposed rates are in fact a loss leader. As you clarify above by the time the meters are paid for and enforcement is paid for there isn’t going to be much left over for the general fund. So because parking is impacted 4 hours a day during the 33 weeks of the year when UCD is in session the city is going to charge people 12 hours a day, seven days a week, all year  to essentially break even. However, if you charge more you get more revenue, something that I have no doubt will eventually be the case.

  6. Alan Miller

    I usually walk or bike, but occasionally have my Jeep.  I visit SF and Berkeley often, so Davis is Eeeasy.  Winters is easier, true.  The only time I’ve had to walk a few blocks is on Friday or Saturday evening.  Paid parking at other times — is it worth the effort?

    So funny that solving the issue of downtown employees parking in customer spots is an issue.  It was an issue 15 years ago when I was on the downtown parking committee — and no one has been able to solve it, nor will they ever.

  7. Todd Edelman

    By charging a nominal fee, we can recoup those costs and either break even on enforcement or perhaps start saving money for another parking structure if we really deem that necessary.

    or we use the money to support a parking benefit district mechanism. I think that this is part of the plan in Davis, but only in a marginal way.



    1. Ron Glick

      Reinvesting in the downtown is the story line but the money will go to the general fund. Only through the goodwill of City Council budgeting process will any of the money go to improving the downtown.

    2. Alan Miller

      or we use the money to support a parking benefit districtmechanism.

      Sounds like the “Green New Deal”.  Everyone sees what they want to see.  Or Gavin’s speech on High Speed Rail.  Everyone sees what they want to see.  Or more taxes in Davis, everyone sees what they want the taxes to go for.  Especially the Vanguard.

  8. Richard McCann

    As usual Bob Dunning stirs the pot for his own perceived personal benefit and doesn’t propose a workable solution. If he’s an “entertainer” I wish he would stick to trivial matters instead of mucking around in policy issues that have real consequences.

    I agree City staff needs to be pressed on resolving the parking issue with following the intent of the Council and citizen input. The staff isn’t always good at following direction, or at least informing others about subsequent problems with that direction.

    I think we need to see a solid parking fee proposal to comment on. It was one focal point of the Downtown Planning process and using the funds for downtown development was a core component of that plan.

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