Guest Commentary: Downtown Entreats Council to Reject Parking Meters


by Dan Urazandi

The history of paid parking in Davis has unfolded outside my store window. From here, the center of downtown and the maelstrom of the debate on paid parking, I can see the cause of parking problems and effect of supposed solutions. I can see close to 40 spaces that have been removed over the years—the E Street plaza cost 25, three more for the walkway through the lot, three given away to Zipcar and Uber, two to the crosswalk, at least two to bulb outs, some to bicycle parking in the street, two to the bus stops. This is just on one block. Throughout downtown nearly 100 spaces have been whittled away over the last 20+ years. I use hand count estimates since the city refuses to release hard numbers that would prove they caused the parking shortage. All these losses entailed removing a practical necessity, parking spaces that were being used many times every day, for aesthetic gains that are used far less often by far fewer people or serve no purpose at all. Now the city wants to tax every space because each is a valuable commodity, but they placed no value on them before wanting to monetize them.

This is the sort of firsthand evidence the council needs to hear and heed. There are solid reasons why 90% of downtown businesses, customers and employees are opposed to the city’s paid parking plan. The 70 businesses that entreated council to stop implementation represent generations of knowledge of how best to serve downtown Davis. The Chamber of Commerce, the vast majority of DDBA members and are all against the plan. Business is against metered parking because it deters people from coming and staying downtown, which is bad for business.

Paid consultants along with proponents on city staff prepared and presented the paid parking plan to council. It pretends to be factual but is a one-sided sales pitch that assumes positives and minimizes or ignores negatives. And if the consultants are wrong, they pay no price. Downtown pays it all. If downtown is going to be affected most, they should have the most say.

But the process so far has relegated downtown to voicing objections during public comment. There has been no debate in chamber because one position is sidelined. So we have taken the issue into the public sphere in hopes that council will listen to the vast majority of the townspeople who are also 80-90% opposed and that council will press staff for full and complete answers and not rubber stamp before getting them.

We are certain the plan cannot withstand real scrutiny. Here are just some of its failings:

Since no new space is being added, for the plan to meet its promise of providing space for people willing to pay, other people have to be driven off. But who will be driven off? Employees? Low income drivers? Customers? The plan has no projections for this and consultants were woefully unprepared to answer when Brett Lee asked. They also had no answer to how many cars adjacent untaxed areas would be expected to absorb.

The plan claims its price of 50 cents to $1 an hour is the lowest price that achieves availability targets of 80-85% occupancy. THIS IS MATHEMATICALLY FALSE. The lowest price that achieves 80-85% occupancy at all non-peak times when occupancy is below that level naturally is ZERO. If the only purpose is to achieve 80-85% no intervention is needed the majority of the time. Yet the proposal collects money from 10am to 10pm everyday including Sunday. The city seems intent on getting the most money out of a plan that’s supposedly not about the money.

This is the worst kind of tax—regressive and paying mostly for its own implementation and enforcement. What small gains there may be are supposed to be earmarked for downtown improvements, but the city defines meters as an improvement, so the money would go for more meters and more ticketing. Downtown would gladly refuse this largesse if it could.

Isn’t turnover as important as occupancy? Extending the time limit from 2 to 5 hours goes against turnover. It makes it cheaper to park downtown than in the UCD lots while attending class.

Another unchallenged assumption is that making it harder to drive downtown via paid parking will encourage people to bike and take public transport. It is more likely that drivers will drive to Target or Woodland or get what they used to buy downtown online, all of which adds up to more driving.

The task force recommendations are upside down. The DPTF returned with 18 recommendations to improve parking downtown. The city then chose how to prioritize them—it put paid parking, the most expensive, hated and potentially damaging suggestion at #1 and put increase parking supply and improve public transportation at the bottom of the list with no action at all.

How many more parking tickets are expected? Does the revenue expectation presented include this money stream? Can we avoid Sacramento’s massive smart meter ticketing error rate? What is the psychological deterrent of ticket fear if you can be ticketed from the minute you park 10am to 10pm 7 days a week? What does that mean to the culture and environment downtown? Should the police department focus its energy on more tax collection via ticketing? Have they considered how change and new technology are exclusionary to the elderly? Why are unrelated improvements being tied to paid parking instead of implemented on their own?

The staff report and the consultants plan, despite their length, don’t just fail to answer these questions, they never ask them. Council is being presented with a one-sided argument masquerading as fact. Proponents call the plan “science” because it cites an expert and cities like San Francisco where paid parking was deemed necessary. But how many experts say the opposite? How many cities like Sonoma and Petaluma have healthy downtowns without paid parking? If you already have a purpose you can then pick your experts and examples to suit that purpose. That’s not science, it’s political manipulation.

Science follows observation and experiment, which brings me back to my shop’s view of the E St. lot. This lot is the only real example of how paid parking works or fails in Davis, not some other town or theoretical model, and should be studied fully and accurately. Its lesson has been perverted by the consultants who present a glaring contradiction: the lot is currently at $1 per hour AND near 100% occupancy during peak hours. Yet their claim is that paid parking achieves 80-85% occupancy during peak, which is the only time there is a parking shortage. So paid parking does NOTHING to help occupancy at peak times. Before anyone says the lot’s 100% occupancy while paid also refutes opponents’ claims that paid parking drives customers away, refer to our featured image. It shows first that paid parking met huge resistance when implemented and that it took years for the lot to get back to being full at peak hours. Downtown businesses cannot survive such an exodus made full scale. Secondly, it is only at peak hours today that occupancy is high with or without paid parking. The paid lot is still underused compared to pre-meter at non-peak times. So the lot proves that paid parking does not work at controlling parking when it is needed AND it proves that paid parking drives people away at other times and upon implementation.

Here is a situation where logic, prudence, democracy, business, economics, math and science are on one side. City staff and consultants are on the other. Which side will council be on?

Dan Urazandi is a downtown owner – this is a personalized version of a letter submitted to council by The original can be found at

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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15 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Downtown Entreats Council to Reject Parking Meters”

  1. Bill Marshall

    Fully agree with first paragraph… as to spots available, reminds me of Pogo… “we have met the enemy and it is us…”

    Not saying those decisions were wrong, but am saying, ‘decisions have consequences’… whether the ‘trade-offs’ were weighed a the time of those decisions, I leave to others.  And yes, failures to decide have consequences, as well… still involves ‘trade-offs’.

    “E Street Plaza” is classic, as I recall… removing parking for a ‘gathering place’, public art, electric car charging stations (another ‘subsidy?) and first paid parking, and as author points out “preferential parking” for Zip, Uber, 20-min, bulb-outs, bicycle parking, other amenities have affected Core Area parking availability… none of those are inherently ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’… but, there are/were ‘consequences’… trade-offs…

    IBM had a great desk sign, given to employees…  “THINK”… too seldom done… citizens, ‘shareholders’, electeds, and staff… [inter-related…everyone tries to please both themselves and everyone else… doesn’t always work…]

    1. Craig Ross

      I don’t agree on the first paragraph.

      He writes: “Now the city wants to tax every space because each is a valuable commodity, but they placed no value on them before wanting to monetize them.”

      That’s not exactly true.  First of all, there are values put on parking spaces, that’s why they have in lieu parking fees and paid X-permits.

      Second and perhaps more importantly, the notion of monetizing them is misplaced.  I prefer to think of it as assigning proper market value.

      1. Bill Marshall

        OK… our opinions differ… doesn’t mean I’m wrong, or you are right… we may both be right, with nuances, or may well both be wrong… opinions… that’s all I offered.

  2. Richard McCann

    This article is full of ignorance.

    – First off, this isn’t a “tax”–its a price being paid for use of common property? Should we just let renters live for free in a house for free? Should we just deliver water for free because it comes from a public agency? We all paid for that street, and now we are proposing to charge a price for this. Just because it is a public agency doesn’t make it any different than a business charging for its goods. Don’t give me that shibboleth that just because something isn’t owned by an individual or a club of individuals that it somehow falls into being a tax.

    – There is no shortage of parking spaces in total downtown. The data collected for the Downtown Plan definitively shows that. The problem is that demand for parking exceeds supply in certain locations downtown. Removing parking spaces has shifted the distribution of spaces, but the trade off has been a more pleasant environment downtown that probably is a factor in the increased foot traffic. We do NOT need more parking space downtown–quit asking, and come up with a different solution.

    – The theory of property rights shows that it is not worthwhile to charge a price for a commodity or service until the value rises above the transaction costs of charging the price. That means that parking has been “free” up to this point because the costs of installing meters has been greater than value, and revenues, for parking. It looks like we have hit that cusp where we can now charge a price.

    – How is the parking meter cost regressive? Is it hitting lower income individuals harder? Where’s the evidence?

    – The E St lot data is both wildly out of date and unrepresentative. As anyone who has tried E St lately knows that the lot is full almost the entire day despite the parking meters. And the decrease in use came for a single reason–the Great Recession. Business was decreasing across downtown and there were a large number of empty parking spaces everywhere. There were even more closed storefronts than today. Simply put, there wasn’t enough total demand to fill a paid parking lot at the time. That is no longer the case.

    There is no evidence that adding meters would cause customers to go to Woodland or Sacramento. The added fuel cost, much less the travel time, is much greater than the cost of a meter. At 25 miles per gallon and $3/gallon, a round time to Woodland already would cost at least $2. As for Target, it has already taken its bite out of downtown businesses. As I pointed earlier, there is little that is offered downtown that is carried at the neighborhood centers or at Target. The markets do not substantially overlap.

    In addition, the opposition ignores that the meters would increase parking turnover, which would increase the number of customers downtown.

    If the business community opposes the parking meter proposal, it needs to step up in a way that (1) doesn’t demand a subsidy from the rest of us, either through a parking lot or free X permits, (2) doesn’t ruin the aesthetics of downtown by crowding back cars into the space by trying to squeeze in more parking spaces, and (3) . My proposal would be that each business buy either an X permit or a transit pass for every employee and owner. (And the City would need to justify the costs of the X permits. The URAC could review the City’s analysis.)

    1. Don Shor

      As I pointed earlier, there is little that is offered downtown that is carried at the neighborhood centers or at Target. The markets do not substantially overlap.

      You said it earlier, and you were wrong then. You’re still wrong. My reply then:

      Off the top of my head:
      Premium wines.
      Pet supplies.
      Organic foods.
      Delicatessen food.
      Home decorating.
      Paint and supplies.
      Pictures and frames.

      I’m sure I could think of others. But suffice to say, the markets do substantially overlap.

    2. Don Shor

      but the trade off has been a more pleasant environment downtown that probably is a factor in the increased foot traffic. We do NOT need more parking space downtown–.

      There is no evidence for your assertion about foot traffic.
      We DO need more parking space downtown. That was the unanimous conclusion of the parking task force.

      This article is full of ignorance…
      ….quit asking, and come up with a different solution

      Any particular reason for this persistently abrasive tone?

      1. Mark West

        “We DO need more parking space downtown. That was the unanimous conclusion of the parking task force.”

        That is true, it was the conclusion of the task force, but it is not the conclusion of the experts working on the new CASP, who have repeatedly questioned the need for new supply in their public presentations. The downtown continues to change and evolve and our understanding and expectations need to change with it. We should not be making decisions about the future using outdated perceptions from the past.


        1. Don Shor

          This is not a direct response to your comment, but this seems like a good place to post the specific wording from the task force.

          Even if the most efficient use of the available Downtown parking supply is made, increased demand for parking due to new development in Downtown and elsewhere in the City and UC Davis will create the need for an expansion of the Downtown parking inventory over time. While the Task Force recommended further study of the exact timing and best strategy to address this need, any project substantially increasing the parking supply will require multiple years of planning. Thus, the City should undertake this process as soon as possible in order to be prepared to act when appropriate. Additionally, gathering the funds necessary to undertake such a project will most likely take considerable time; thus, it is important to define the project and its costs, and the appropriate strategy to fund it as soon as possible.

          Recommendation #16: Expand Parking Supply. Supports Outcomes: #1, #2, #3, #8, & #9 Explanation: Downtown parking peaks cause parking shortages in specific geographies, typically the southeast and southwest quadrants. The growth of UC Davis and the community-at-large will put additional pressure on the downtown parking supply. Construction of additional parking will help release this pressure, accommodate additional downtown redevelopment, help downtown host large events, and improve the downtown pedestrian experience (e.g. widening sidewalks). The Downtown Parking Management Plan recommends $150,000 for a feasibility study, design concept, and preliminary engineering of a site-specific parking structure. Locations may include but are not limited to: • Boy Scout lot • F Street parking lot (bounded by Third, Fourth, E, and F Streets) • Amtrak lot

        2. Mark West

          It is really a moot point though as there is no money for new supply. When your plan requires something that is currently impossible, you need a new plan.

    3. Bill Marshall

       the meters would increase parking turnover, which would increase the number of customers downtown.

      Theory (which I believe has merits)… some evidence… not “facts“… if approved, we’ll see… but general economic conditions will need to be factored out, as you have pointed out…

      Just saying…

    4. Ron Glick

      “And the decrease in use came for a single reason–the Great Recession.”

      Good catch on noticing that the study was done during a weak economy. However your conclusion that the decrease in the occupancy of the lot was only because of the recession and not because of the addition of meters isn’t certain. I know that I haven’t parked in that lot during paying hours since the addition of meters.

  3. Edgar Wai

    I believe Dan.

    UC Davis has almost no free parking that that is not a good comparison. Once a person gets enrolled, they don’t randomly decide which university to go each day.

    If we want people to make room for other waiting to park, is it not enough to just post a sign saying so? If you see people waiting to be seated at a restaurant, you will eat faster, right?

    The parking meter model will charge people even when there are parking spaces left. Why? If the lots are not full, why are meters relevant in improving turnover? What would turnover matter if the lots are not full anyway??

    Downtown also has some residence parking spaces. If I live in downtown and I want to support downtown, may I post a sign saying, “Please feel free to park here between 10am to 2pm!” ? If I am out, I might as well let others park there.

    When you see a parked car in downtown, how do you know that the people of that care are not helping downtown in some way by shopping or working? How do you know that you deserve to park there more than they do? Do you deserve to park there more because you have money to spare for a parking meter company?

    What if I go to downtown because I want to donate stuff to stores? People donate boardgames and stuff like that to Goodwill, but I think if a game set is complete, it should be donated to an actual game shop (if they accept donations). When you donate that kind of stuff to Goodwill, pieces get lost quite easily, it is kind of sad.  If the set is not complete, the odds are the game shop has another incomplete set and together they make a complete set!

    1. John Hobbs

      “If you see people waiting to be seated at a restaurant, you will eat faster, right?”

      Never. I recently walked out of a popular restaurant w/o paying, because the server tried to rush us through our meal.

      Do you own/drive a car?

      1. Ron Glick

        If I’m done with my meal and see people waiting I’ll leave to make room. Also if I stay too long I’ll tip extra because of the lost revenue to the staff by not  serving more people.

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