By Linnea Patterson and David Greenwald
City Hall was packed on Tuesday night to hear the city council’s decision on the highly controversial proposition of paid parking downtown. Consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard presented in front of Mayor Brett Lee, along with Mayor pro tempore Gloria Partida and council members Lucas Frerichs and Dan Carson. The suggested plan, which proposes fifty cents to one dollar an hour metered parking in the southeast quadrant of downtown, hit a nerve with many residents, which was reflected in the public comments.
During the staff presentation, consultants argued, “Paid parking is uniquely qualified to balance the availability needs with the efficiency needs of parking.”
In contrast to public debate over paid parking as a revenue generator, she argued that “paid parking is considered as a policy tool rather than a revenue tool.”
The ideal arrangement is to charge the lowest possible price that moves the parking availability into a 60 to 80 percent sweet-spot, where there is neither too many vacant parking spaces nor too few. The ideal would be about one to two per block most of the time.
“The purpose of paid parking is for parking management, NOT revenue generation,” she explained. The belief is that by varying the cost of the parking they move the needle in one direction or another.
Critical to the problem is the fact that, during peak hours at lunch and dinner, the SE quadrant averages about a 91 percent occupancy, ranging between 86 percent off-street during the evening peak hour to as high as 93 percent on-street. Ideally they would like to reduce that occupancy to between 60 and 80 percent.
Once parking occupancy goes over 80 percent, it increases the parking search time, traffic congestion (as vehicles circle looking for parking), vehicle pollution, street-crosswalk conflicts, noise and frustration, with drivers unable to find parking.
Why is paid parking the answer? she asked. It provides a simple and effective, market-based solution, prioritizes parking for customers, increases customer parking capacity, increases time limits while eliminating re-parking restrictions, reduces traffic congestion and maximizes the effectiveness of other parking recommendations.
But, while the staff was fairly certain about their solution, the community which showed up was overwhelmingly opposed. According to Mayor Brett Lee, emails ran about five to one against paid parking. Moreover, estimates about public commenters had them running about 70 percent against, as well.
Many citizens voiced their concerns for the people who work downtown, and the impact paid parking will have on them economically. One Davis resident expressed this problem: “When you reduce the number of cars being parked, whose cars are you excluding? It’s not going to be the rich guy – it’s going to be the poor guy. In Sacramento, one-fifth of wage workers spend their income on parking.”
Not only is paid parking a concern for employees, but for business owners as well. Many downtown business owners are worried that meters will discourage potential customers: “Paid parking will only encourage people to shop in Sacramento, Woodland, and Vacaville. Paid parking will turn downtown Davis into a ghost town.”
Much of the heat of public comments was directed at the city staff themselves. As downtown parking spots have been slowly replaced with bike racks and restaurant seating, many residents wonder if the city is attempting to solve a fabricated problem: “These are the same city employees that eliminated 100 parking spots downtown. They created a problem, and now they want to ‘fix’ it. If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
However, not every citizen opposed the change to downtown parking. Many argued that it’s a safer alternative to circling the block in rage, which risks the safety of pedestrians, bikers, and sanity: “We Americans come to expect parking everywhere we go, but parking is not free. We pay for parking in the times we circle the block, looking for a spot.”
The overwhelming public disapproval of the proposal was clear, as Mayor Lee noted about the city council receiving emails five to one against the motion. A concerned resident noted the gravity of this resistance: “If you move this forward with this kind of opposition, we have a lot more work to do in this community. This rests largely on the public’s trust of your leadership.”
After over two hours, public comments wrapped up and council members began to ask clarifying questions of the city staff.
Ultimately, the council decided not to reach a resolution on Tuesday.
As it approached midnight, Mayor Lee admitted he still had “gaps in [his] knowledge” and asked council members to postpone the motion until the next city council meeting. Lee emphasized the importance of the public comments, and that this decision is something the council “cannot afford to get wrong.” The motion will reconvene on March 22 at 4 PM.