Monday Morning Thoughts: Does Davis Believe in Science?


As we move toward a decision on paid parking, it is disconcerting the extent to which Davis, home of a world class university, ignores science and scientific methods when it serves its purpose.  We may fully embrace climate science, but in the past we have ignored things like the science on water fluoridation – and it would appear the very basic science on why we need paid parking.

I read a letter: “I place great weight on the concerns overwhelmingly expressed by our downtown businesses. If our businesses further fail, what purpose will those parking meters serve?”

But the only way to get there is to ignore the experience of other communities with regard to parking, to ignore the fact that the data show we have a sufficient supply of parking – but during critical peak hours, the distribution of that parking is clustered toward surface streets in the southeast quadrant – and to ignore the laws of supply and demand and the fact that, by offering free supply, we are skewing the demand curve.

Bob Dunning calls this, “Fixing what isn’t broken.”

He argues: “I remain unconvinced that parking meters will be good for business in downtown Davis.”

He writes: “I get a clear sense that the sentiment in town is strongly against parking meters. Don’t fix what’s not broken. As my friend Jerry told me over lunch the other day, the sentiment in town is ‘overwhelmingly’ against parking meters in town.”

That part I agree with – the sentiment in town is in fact “overwhelmingly” against parking meters in town.  What I don’t really understand is why.

First of all, what is not broken?  We can see the data analysis here.  What we see is that during peak hours, which is during lunch, and basically from late afternoon until late in the evening, there are vast swaths of downtown where parking is functionally not available.

The occupancy rate there is well over 90 percent.  The ideal rate is about 60 to 80 percent, with ideally one to two spots available per block.

People will say they can always find parking – that is true.  You should be always able to find parking, but the act of finding that parking contributes to problems.  It means more cars are circling the blocks, contributing to congestion and air emissions.

Sorry, there is a problem here.  Some people brave the parking problems and simply circle around until they find parking.

Others, though, may not.  How many people does the downtown lose because they either give up on finding parking or they don’t want to bother?  Are we adequately measuring that?

The second problem is that we actually do have enough parking.  We simply have too much demand for the parking spots on the street and not enough for the parking lots and garages – especially at Fourth and G.

The third problem is that a good percentage of that scarce parking on the streets during peak hours – 15 to 25 percent – is taken up by employees who should be deferring to customers.

By not charging a fee for parking, we have warped the supply and demand curve here.  By charging more for parking in one part of downtown, we will redistribute that demand and push more of it out away from the southeast and toward the parking garages and free parking areas.  And by creating incentives for employees and employers to push employee parking off of the streets, we open up those spots.

That’s how the science works.  This isn’t rocket science and it’s not particularly complicated.  It’s Economics 101.

So why are large numbers of businesses and customers opposed to it?

They are concerned about the impact of paid parking.  The question is whether they should have those concerns.  This is where once again we should use science rather than fear-based models (sorry Alan Miller) to assess the situation.

We have the experiences of other communities.  We also have the experience of the Davis community.  What the experience of the Davis community is based on is the E Street parking lot.  The extraordinary thing about the E Street lot is that it should not work at all, according to what the businesses and naysayers are telling us.

And yet, it is full most of the time.  What does that tell us?  A few things.

First, that we are not charging enough for parking in Davis.  People are willing to pay money to park in a convenient location.  The proof is there.

Second, when given the choice of paid parking or free parking, enough people will choose to pay even when free parking is nearby.

So suddenly people are going to drive somewhere else rather than pay?  The E Street lot argues against that scenario.

That begs the question – is the current situation really working well?

One point I see made over and over again is we are charging paid parking from 10 am to 10 pm – and that is not the right time slot.  I don’t really agree.  My observation is that prior to about 10 am, it is in fact easy to find street level parking in southeast downtown where I work.

When I had to park on the street rather than in my paid parking spot in the Tim Spencer Ally, I could always find a parking spot on G Street prior to 10 am.  Once you get into the noon hour, the street parking filled up, but up until about 11:30 you could usually find one in the G St parking lot across the street where the old Ace building is.

After that hour, you can’t find parking again until about 1:30.  Then there is a brief window from about 1:30 to three, where you can find some parking in the southeast, but after about three, it becomes harder and harder and there is no way there are one to two spots per block after 3 pm.

Remember, we are not talking about all of downtown, we are only talking about the southeast.

Finally, anytime between about 4 pm and 10 pm, you’re only going to find a spot on the street if you happen to catch someone pulling out of their spot.

I disagree with Mr. Dunning who usually works from home – the situation downtown is not working that well.  Right now we cannot build a new lot and, even if we did, the problem exists because most people would rather circle around looking for a spot rather than drive to the G and Fourth garage and walk two blocks.

—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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51 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Does Davis Believe in Science?”

  1. Ron Glick

    “This isn’t rocket science and it’s not particularly complicated.  It’s Economics 101.”

    Rocket Science is physical science and nobody in Davis that I know disputes the laws of Physics. We are not talking about gravity here David. Economics however, is not science, and certainly not in the way the term has been thrown around. Yes, we have the law of supply and demand, but even Brett Lee will tell you that it doesn’t operate perfectly like  Keplers laws, Newton’s laws or Einsteins General Theory of Relativity.

    1. Wesley Sagewalker

      Agreed. Economics is not science; and I say this as an economist. Hayek had some prescient words to say on this subject:

      It is disingenuous to hide behind “science” as if it were some objective truth when discussing parking policy. Economics can make predictions with varying degrees of certainty; estimating the expected impacts on demand is one of the more fraught predictions economists will try to make. This involves many assumptions about the underlying models and data generating processes which drive consumers’ decisions about parking downtown. Anyone who claims that this is “science” doesn’t really understand economics.

      From what I have read in the public record, neither the consultants nor city seem able to explain and justify some of their key assumptions and modeling. There are reasonable claims which can be made against this report which seems to be in need of more granular analysis. For example, why do they charge 10 am-10 pm on Sunday? My understanding is the actual parking data does not seem to present a problem during this time. If I am wrong in understanding this, I would be happy to be corrected, but issues like this provide reasonable grounds for skepticism regarding the “science” you want to promulgate.

      1. Ron Glick

        When the mayor first ran and he was after my vote I asked him if he believed in the law of supply and demand? I asked because at that time there was another candidate that had argued that the law of supply and demand didn’t work in the Davis housing market.

        The then candidate and now mayor was a little surprised  and asked if I was serious.  When I persisted he put on his London School of Economics hat and explained that generally the law of supply and demand works but there are some caveats. I don’t remember him actually using the word caveat but that was essentially the gist of it.

        I pointed this out to him when he began arguing with me in the back of the council chamber at the last meeting where parking was on the agenda and brought up that I was the one who asked him if he believed in supply and demand.

    2. Richard McCann

      ” Economics however, is not science,”

      Then biology and its derivatives isn’t a science either.

      There are many degrees of uncertainty in the sciences. What we didn’t know 500 years ago in physics now seems quite elementary. Accept that economists can do reasonably well at predicting human behavior, and certainly better than the physicists could do 500, or even 200, years ago.

      That politicians and the public might not like what economists tell them, and then twist or ignore the economists’ advice, is not something that economists have control over.

  2. Ron Glick

    “That part I agree with – the sentiment in town is in fact “overwhelmingly” against parking meters in town.  What I don’t really understand is why?”

    I’m not trying to be disrespectful here David but I think you don’t understand why because you tend to view things through the lens of growing up in San Luis Obispo where parking is paid. You often look to how things are done there as a model for Davis whether its densification, limit lines on development or paid parking. The thing you forget is that SLO is only one model. Also you are being selective in your arguments because SLO has 3 big parking structures within one block of  the Mission where the first hour is free.

    Of course this is what the business community has wanted for years, another big parking structure before meters.

    1. David Greenwald

      When I was growing up, SLO had no parking garages.  But I’m also biased because I drive down there every day and for six months used a quarter-used parking garage on a daily basis which even on Halloween when all the kids in town were trick or treating, was only half full.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Of course this is what the business community has wanted for years, another big parking structure before meters.

      Hell yes… and they have wanted for everyone (except them) to acquire the land, build the structure(s), maintain and replace it (eventually) at zero cost to the business community, or at most, de minimus cost… they would say “their share” should come from all sales tax and business tax revenue the City already receives, or any additions by business growth.  A one way street.

      Just look at all (?) the assessments the business community has or are paying towards what we already have, compared to the costs.  De minimus.

      Has nothing to do with ‘paid parking’, has everything to do with what the business community wants and expects from everyone else… but don’t expect any discounts if we all pay for their “wants”.

      No indication yet of what ‘skin’ the business community is willing to devote to all the costs of increased supply of parking.

      Just saying… to paraphrase a former President, “What’s good for business is good for Davis!”  To which I reply, “show us the money”…


  3. Ron Glick

    San Luis Obispo also has a bus system that offers the community direct bus service into the heart of downtown. They even have a trolley from the hotel district to downtown for the tourists.

  4. Eric Gelber

    And yet, it [the E Street parking lot] is full most of the time.  What does that tell us?  

    That 60 or so people at a given time are willing to pay for parking.

  5. Alan Pryor

    we have ignored things like the science on water fluoridation

    David – It is really hard to grant that you have any valid scientific perspective at all when you throw out a completely unsubstantiated and general BS statement about “the science of water fluoridation”. So tell  me, please, “What is the science of water fluoridation?”

    Have you even looked at the myriad of US governement-funded studies that have been released in recent years showing the association between high community water and preganant women’s urine fluoride levels and decreased IQ levels in their children? Have you looked at the peer-reviewed studies showing associations between commnity water fluoridation and ADHD diagnosis? Have you looked at the studes showing associations between community water fluoridation and hyper-thyroidism? Have you looked at the studies showing associations between water fluoride levels and dental fluorosis? Have you seen the recent CDC warning against kids swallowing any fluoridated toothpaste at all because their fluoride ingestion levels are already so high due, in part, to commnnity water fluoridation and elevated fluoride levels in many beverages and many processed food?

    Let’s get real here, David. You do not have any scientific training or background in toxicology or epidemiology or physiology or statistics so for you to prattle on about the “science of fluoridation” indicates to me that you are simply parroting what many in the dental community have been bullhorning for the past 50 years…”it is safe, trust us”.

    More recently, we have heard the exact same thing, (“it is safe, trust us”) about the purported safety of glyphosate and Dicambra from Monsanto and many ag researchers in academia (some financed by Monsanto research dollars) and administrators the EPA (some ex Monsanto or industry employees) and now look how that is turning out.

    So maybe there is “science” behind the paid parking dispute going on and maybe there is not. I don’t know. But given your proclivity to just throw out the phrase,  “the science about”, anytime it supports your position makes me suspect there is actually not a lick of science behind it at all and you are just blowing clouds to suit your fancy.

    But if there really is “science” behind the paid parking proposal, please share with your readers exactly what is that “science” and maybe even give references to a few peer-reviewed articles. A detailed article on the “science about paid parking” would be really great and would be far more convincing than you just again climbing up backwards on your horse named “Science” and waving  your self-righteous sword at the tilting windmills. That does your publication and your opinions no good service.

    1. Alan Pryor

      And BTW, I do believe in the “science” of climate change and the efficacy of most vaccinations so I am not at all a science naysayer. I just oppose missappropiation of the term “the science about…” when no good scientific evidence actually exists or is not factually presented.

        1. Alan Miller

          Oh, no, please God.  I thought you DISCOURAGED going completely off topic, DG.  You seem to want to incite the debate of half-a-decade-ago by mentioning it in a poor comparison, allowing a long diatribe by the other side, and then encouraging a response — all in an article on PARKING.  Blogger, heal thyself.

        2. Alan Pryor

          Oops – That would be HYPOthyroidism not HYPERthyroidism as an astute reader pointed out to me…don’t trust the “science of spellcheck” either.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Correct… for him and others, that could be a real “rabbit-hole”… better to steer around, or wound their own credibility on other issues they espouse.

  6. Ron Oertel

    What this is really about is the planned residentialization of downtown.  Those new residents and their visitors are going to park somewhere.  Which will further displace businesses (directly – via garages and new driveways), and via more cars parked on the street.

    All while some are advocating for the elimination of minimum parking space requirements, for these new developments.

    Business as usual, in Davis.


      1. Ron Oertel

        Businesses are not necessarily developers or property owners.  For example, some businesses might be tenants, who would be displaced by redevelopment. (See Trackside, for example.)



        [Moderator: please don’t take this off topic. If you have a concern with David, contact him directly.]

        1. David Greenwald

          But that’s the point – it’s not business as usual in Davis – it’s a “strange bedfellows” issue that cuts across normal cleavages.


        2. Ron Oertel

          ” . . . it’s a “strange bedfellows” issue that cuts across normal cleavages.”

          There must be an inappropriate joke in there, somewhere. I just can’t come up with it.

          Alan M.?



        3. Alan Miller

          There must be an inappropriate joke in there, somewhere. I just can’t come up with it.

          Alan M.?

          There is . . . and I’m not going to touch it.

          Formulate your own images, Davis.  Have fun!

  7. Alan Miller

    We may fully embrace climate science, but in the past we have ignored things like the science on water fluoridation – and it would appear the very basic science on why we need paid parking.

    Yeah, we shuda listuned to Tom Cahill that science guy and now thousands of studenz will die of cancer cuz we didnu listen to smart science man — can I get an amen DG?   CAN I GET AN AMEN????!!!!

      1. Alan Miller

        I think people attach their cart to whatever ox (science) happens to make their point.  Much ‘science’ is art, or worse:  influenced by human belief and frailty.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Unlike other positions “influenced by human belief and frailty”, and blatant ‘self-interest’?  “It’s about me” mentality, by many?

          Actually, am pretty much in agreement with your 9:57 post…

  8. Don Shor

    This isn’t Econ 101. I’m pretty sure they don’t get to pricing theory until about Econ 301.

    There isn’t a direct linear correlation between price and demand. It’s punctuated, with distinct price thresholds, and those are subject to many variables that differ from one demographic and one market to another. As someone who implements pricing policy on a daily basis, I can assure you that finding the exact right price to achieve your goal is complicated. It requires some things that I don’t think will exist here:

    Instant feedback and monitoring of the demand.

    Flexibility to change pricing rapidly in response to demand.

    Authorization to apply any price necessary to achieve the agreed goals.

    I don’t know if city staff will have the tools to get the information they need in a timely manner, if they will have the ability to change prices in response to time-of-day, seasonal, or unanticipated variations in demand. I don’t know if they would have the authorization to go higher than $2 if that is what it takes. More likely we would get a clumsy implementation that would not cover the costs of the policy, and that would become an issue in and of itself.

    What we actually have is an arbitrary price range being proposed. It seems to have little evidentiary basis.

    One thing I can tell you about consultants: at least in our industry, they ALWAYS tell retailers to raise their prices. That tells you little about the efficacy of their proposal. It tells you a great deal about their demographics. They’re well-paid.

    I’m reminded of a recent comment by someone who couldn’t understand why there was so much concern about a $120 annual parking cost. I’d just reply that as your income increases, it is easy to forget what it was like to be poorer.

    I think the headline is rather patronizing and does a disservice to the discourse.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I think the headline is rather patronizing and does a disservice to the discourse.

      Ahhh, yes, but it generates interest/’hit’s and “sells” paper/ad space… see # of “hits” on the repeated parking themes! Including this one…

    2. Bill Marshall

      I’m reminded of a recent comment by someone who couldn’t understand why there was so much concern about a $120 annual parking cost. I’d just reply that as your income increases, it is easy to forget what it was like to be poorer.

      Yes, true as stated… and what is the compensation DT businesses pay (salary AND benefits, and making sure that they don’t trigger mandatory medical insurance obligations to the employer, by keeping the hours avail below the ‘trigger’)… same for Redwood Barn, for that matter… $10/mo… $2.50/week… for 30 hours/week (so as not to trigger employer requirements towards health care), about $0.08 per hour… doesn’t seem to be A BIG PRICE FOR PARKING…

      Let’s go for “transparency” rather than just slogans… and, reality… compare a $120/year parking cost, compared to operating a vehicle for a year… energy, maintenance/repair, insurance, etc.  Looks de minimus to me, but what do I know… I’m well off…

      So, what do you pay your folk, salary and benefits (total comp, inc. SS, Medicare, etc), Don… could you not afford to increase that by $0.08 per hour?  Or less, for those who work more than 30 hours on a regular basis?

      Business owner, heal thyself… “cry not for the working poor, argumentative…”… goes for all businesses, not meaning to single out Don, except as to his argument…

      Your argument about the injustice of $120/year for parking, fails, prima facie.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Getting back to the ‘cleavage’ allusion?

          But (another ‘cleavage’ allusion?), if you are without ‘bux’, how can one afford to pay to own, maintain, fuel, insure a vehicle?  Or does the ‘bux’ stop with paid parking?

  9. Edgar Wai

    This might be a stupid question because I am not familiar with retail.

    We keep hearing that 25% of the parking is occupied by employees and that is bad. But what is the context behind this number?

    Did the employee start work before 10am and they don’t finish work until 10pm? So their car takes up the space that whole time? When they leave at night we want them to walk to a parking lot after working 12 hours?

  10. Jason Taormino

    My personal research of actually speaking with many bar and restaurant workers leads me to believe they will welcome meters as a cost and stress reducer. It may not make them choose to park farther away.   Also, they believe that $120.00 is too much to pay at one time. Meters will help our bar and restaurant workers but it may not help customers.

  11. Rik Keller

    Where in this article has The Vanguard presented any “scientific” (or other type of) evidence for its assertions?

    And when is The Vanguard going to drop its reliance on the editorial “we” in these badly-written articles? The Vanguard does not speak for Davis or any other collective group.

    “…any time someone uses the word “we” without specifically defining who they mean, they should be treated with skepticism, if not hostility….The worst uses of the first-person plural… instead measure[ing] the dimensions of the inside of the writer’s head and presenting them as those of the cosmos.”

  12. Alan Miller

    So Hey Council,  HIIIIIIIIII:

    • If you have 5 hours, students will use it as a cheap parking lot.
    • If you go to 90 mins from 2 hours outside paid area, you’ll hurt the yoga studio I go to, cuz classes are 75-90 mins plus time to check in/change/put stuff away (I don’t care, I bike, but I do care that people are able to park so the studio stays healthy). So keep it 2 hours.
    • If you charge more than minimal at the Amtrak station, you’re gonna encourage a few more people to drive.  The more money, the more will drive.  Not a good idea to charge more than the 4th & G lot for Amtrak, and have a cheap monthly option for commuters.
    • Don’t get why you want to use parking meters.  Use an app as the primary, and have machines a couple per block to cover the coins.
    • Happy to help out with a reasonable number of spread-out X-permit spaces in old east.  Work with us – negotiations doing OK so far.
    • Sundays should be free.  Everyone needs a day to breath, and encourage business on slower Sunday.
    • End it at 8pm

    And that’s my thoughtz on King Par.

  13. Don Shor

    Watching the meeting, it’s clear the council members listened to the majority of their constituents and we will not be seeing parking meters downtown.

    1. Bill Marshall

      In next two years, likely not.

      In the next 10 years, will probably not see additional parking, particularly no parking structure(s).

      Let’s “keep on parking” with the status quo.  I can live with that.

    2. Darell Dickey

      Yay! Huge win for continuing the mess we have. A win for the “feelings” of the downtown business owners. I’m looking forward to seeing the downtown economic boom now that we’ve added even more pressure on the “free” street parking by charging to park in the lots that were the last choice anyway.

      The character of downtown Davis has been saved. I’m gonna start bringing my horse.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Cool… just have your horse wear ‘horsie Pampers’, and dispose of the ‘proceeds’ in an environmentally appropriate manner (water/drainage, semi solid waste)… but that would be cool if we had horses, mules as a transportation option… I’d pick a mule… less skittish…

        Yet, horses, mules etc. have their own carbon “foot” print… or “other” print…

        1. Darell Dickey

          Second thought… there are no hitching posts. And we’ll never install them, because once they go in, they never come out.

          Yes, horses tend to leave their “character” all over town.

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