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