By Will Arnold
This Tuesday, my City Council colleagues will discuss, and potentially take action, regarding how and where we park our cars in Downtown Davis.
By virtue of my wife and I owning a business downtown, Mother & Baby Source, I am required to recuse myself from the Council decision on this issue.
But recusal from official duties does not waive one’s right to speech, and I feel I ought to share some thoughts on the subject.
Our current downtown parking situation is not ideal. Mother & Baby Source, for example, is a regional destination for new and expecting parents and, as one might assume, convenient parking is important to our customers.
We hear a good degree of frustration from customers about the current parking situation. Predictably, parking is impacted when customers need it most. At certain times of day, cars circle the blocks looking for a spot to park.
It feels very much like there is not enough convenient parking to meet customer demand.
This has been the case for a number of years. In an effort to address it proactively, a group of citizens was formed in 2013 to seek solutions to our parking issues. This group was called the Downtown Parking Task Force. Its members were downtown business owners, property owners and other stakeholders. They studied the issue for a year, and their work resulted in 19 recommendations.
Some of these recommendations are what might be called “low-hanging fruit,” including upgrades to our parking enforcement technology, better signage, and restriction of delivery vehicle double-parking during the lunch rush. Completing these measures, while important, only works around the edges of our parking issues. Other, more impactful measures remain in progress.
One task force recommendation is to increase the overall supply of parking downtown. Current demand, combined with significant growth of UC Davis student enrollment, and our express desire for Downtown Davis to be a destination for out-of-town visitors and shoppers, make this an attractive proposition, in my opinion.
But parking garages are exceedingly expensive and, absent outside funding, not something the City can afford on its own. I am encouraged by recent efforts to explore funding for a garage on the Amtrak lot, but the result of that process is many years away.
Other cities have approached this issue by providing shuttles or other transit options to allow customers to park on the periphery, or even well-outside downtown, and be transported in. The task force recommended transit options be improved and expanded, and that a transportation alternatives campaign be undertaken. I believe this is a critical initiative that ought to be prioritized by the City, including the allocation of additional resources.
Then there is the important task of better managing our current parking supply.
One effective way to increase available customer parking is to reduce the number of non-customers parking in convenient spots. Nearly a quarter of parking spaces downtown are occupied by employees, and incentivizing them to park elsewhere is a priority. Toward that goal, the City has streamlined the “X” permit process and increased the number of employee parking options, with further expansions in the works. I support these efforts.
Other non-customers who park downtown include Amtrak riders and UC Davis students and employees heading to campus. Many of these folks are customers at other times, but if one parks downtown just to leave, it is not the best use of a downtown parking space.
For example, a number of Capitol Corridor riders from Sacramento drive to Davis to board westbound trains because the Sacramento station charges for parking and we do not. I believe converting our Amtrak lot to paid parking is an advisable step to address this issue and, combined with time-limited street parking, will remove the incentive to utilize our Amtrak lot in this way, freeing up spaces for downtown customers.
However, the proposal that has received the most attention is the recommendation by the task force to install parking meters throughout a large portion of downtown. This would ensure customers can reliably find a spot to park, albeit for a price (between 50 cents and one dollar per hour, depending on the time of day).
Many of these newly-open spaces will be the ones currently occupied by employees and other non-customers. But some customers have expressed that they will decide not to patronize downtown because of the added cost and inconvenience.
Installing parking meters downtown is also a very costly and character-altering proposal. Their significant initial expense is only recoverable by their continued use, meaning they will be a permanent fixture of our downtown. In other words, once parking meters are here, they’re here to stay.
For this reason, I believe a prudent approach is to exhaust our other parking-related efforts, such as the ones described above, prior to making this permanent and costly change to our downtown.
In addition, our Downtown Plan Advisory Committee is in the midst of its work, and long-term, large-scale changes to our downtown character ought to wait until their efforts have concluded.
Finally, there are concepts that are not part of the official recommendation, such as a parking validation program, that I believe warrant further exploration prior to implementation of paid street parking.
I do not envy my colleagues in dealing with this difficult issue. It is a discussion based in large part on a number of frequently-changing variables and assumptions. But such is the nature of policy making.
I believe each of them, as well as our City staff, consultants, task force members, and others engaged on this issue, share the goal of fostering a vibrant and successful downtown for all.
Together, we can work toward solutions that honor the character of our wonderful downtown.
Will Arnold is a member of the Davis City Council