Monday Morning Thoughts: Editorial Opposes Paid Parking in the Downtown


The Enterprise editorial basically argues that the parking issue while it has been about the availability of spaces, will become about revenue.  It is an interesting argument, the problem I think is that the issue is really about supply – whether it morphs into a need for revenue at some point is another question.

The editorial points out: “staff, in response, have emphasized the goal to “free up” parking spaces, that by charging to park, the law of supply and demand will incentivize shoppers to move on, and thus commerce will flow.”

Actually, I don’t believe that is the argument at all.  The bigger argument focuses around the 15 to 25 percent of those parking on surface streets being employees rather than shoppers.  The goal therefore is to encourage business owners to purchase x-permits for their employees and incentivize them moving from surface streets to X-permit lots.

The Enterprise however, focuses on revenue.  They write: “Parking spaces are presented as a wasted resource that the market is not being allowed to commoditize. However, once paid parking is established, and cities start wondering how much to charge, the argument shifts. At that point, studies commissioned by municipalities begin to emphasize how inelastic demand is for parking. Consumers, it turns out, don’t modify their shopping behavior based on parking costs, which is why every city that has implemented paid parking inevitably starts raising rates.”

This is an interesting point that the Enterprise makes that undercuts the argument made by the Chamber and others, that parking will encourage people to shop elsewhere – either in neighborhood centers or out of town.  It turns out – that is not the case.

So why is the Enterprise opposed to this – well they believe that this will shift the issue to a revenue stream is: “no matter what the goals were at the beginning (fewer idling cars, more biking), paid parking becomes a revenue stream, and all other considerations fall by the wayside. The only question becomes, how much can we charge?”

They write: “Doing it in a limited area will have the added effect of creating two zones; one free, one paid. And the paid zone will happen to be in the area already hit hard by the mass exodus in the wake of the sale of the Brinley Building.”

It is also the area that is most impacted in terms of parking.  Why?  Because it is the area where most of the restaurants are in the downtown.  The studies show the southeast quadrant during peak hours generally being in the red zone – about 94% of spaces occupied.

Does the Enterprise really believe that by creating a paid parking area in one portion, the people will not park in the free areas and open up spaces in the red areas?  Also – what happened to the Enterprise cited studies that show “how inelastic demand is for parking?”

There is a lot to this argument that simply does not make sense.

The Enterprise concludes: “We can’t support this proposal — the City Council should look at other ways of raising revenue.”

The models from the city show that this won’t generate much in the way of revenue.  At best it will off-set the cost of enforcement efforts.

I have to wonder: did the Enterprise talk to anyone on the council or for the city when they wrote this editorial?  Did they look at the city’s studies, parking patterns, projected revenue?

—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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18 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Editorial Opposes Paid Parking in the Downtown”

  1. Alan Miller

    So your argument is because the argument that paid parking doesn’t discourage parking includes evidence that there is high elasticity and the City will soon raise rates to increase revenue and it becomes more a revenue source than parking management is evidence that it works as parking management because of the high elasticity?

    Yeah OK

    1. David Greenwald

      Alan: That’s the Enterprise belief, not mine.  I don’t think this is about revenue – all the models I have seen is basically cost-replacement level only for revenue.  Their argument is that argument doesn’t matter because it will become about revenue.

      1. Jim Hoch

        Things that are not about revenue often become about revenue later in their life-cycles. At some point someone will not that parking in Davis is cheaper than it is in SF and there is additional revenue there. I suspect two CC election cycles at most.

      2. Darell Dickey

        Right. It isn’t about revenue (same with giving it away for free as we do now).

        But hey! If it works (no indication that it wouldn’t) to free up spaces, stop the circling, make our downtown more accessible and comfortable and safer for everybody, remove the reparking ordinance and signs, increase time limits to five hours, make the shoppers happier…  are we really going to be that upset if it also earns money for the city instead of having the tax payers pick up the parking tab for the poor car owners? Maybe we could revisit that big concern in two CC election cycles as Jim suggests.

        1. Ron Glick

          Almost a possible solution for part of the problem. One of the current problems with employees not getting X permits is the city charges low wage workers for them. Perhaps we might try giving the employees permits that allow them to park all day farther away. All might not use them but maybe enough would to make things better.

        2. Darell Dickey

          What a great point, Ron. We pick up the full parking tab for anybody who shows up in town with a car for just about any reason.

          But we charge for employee parking permits.

          We charge for mass transportation.

          We charge for bike sharing.

          And so many wish to continue having their car parking paid for…

      3. Bill Marshall

        They have some reason to think it was all about revenue… when proposed in the early 90’s, and early 2000’s some DDBA folk (traffic/parking committee) said they’d accept, if if 100% (or close to) of revenues went to Downtown improvements… many did not care if the City was made whole as to capital costs, enforcement, maintenance, etc.

        Just saying…

        I have no problems with paid parking… but it should apply to both on street and all off-street parking in the Core.

  2. Darell Dickey

    That whole Enterprise bit is crazy confusing.

    >> Consumers, it turns out, don’t modify their shopping behavior based on parking costs <<

    Almost everybody else who is opposed to assigning value to this precious resource tends to say just the opposite. Certainly in the Enterprise and on the Vanguard. The typical claim is that 50c to a couple of bucks will be enough to send people to Woodland for their shopping. The number of illogical reasons to support continued subsidy of car parking in downtown is increasing!

    Other California cities have adopted parking management policies similar to what we’re looking at, and the result was rejuvenation of the downtowns. Parking meters will finally promote wise use of this amazingly expensive resourceMany folks who often champion a “free market” seem to confuse that with getting things paid for by others.

    1. Bill Marshall

      BTW… should we also charge for the ‘subsidy’ of bicycle parking in the Core?  Space taken up, bike racks, etc., and enforcement, particularly for abandoned bicycles?

      Not at the same rate,of course, but bike parking takes up public right of way space, including those place in the street (Delta of Venus?), requires costs for the provision of racks, maintenance, replacement, enforcement?

      Place bicycles and motor vehicles on same ‘platform’ as to ‘parking’ management?  Or are bicycles ‘socially exempt’?  Both bicycles and motor vehicles are ‘subsidized’, as to space, improvements (including ‘spaces’ and striping [parking areas, bike lanes (particularly the ‘double marked’ ones], etc.)…

      Something not about ‘goose and gander’?  ‘Social/philosophical’ motivations?  Subsidize one form rather than the other?  Just saying…

      I support parking management in the Core… for all modes. Applied to all.  MV’s first, but then would support for bicycle mode, as well… in Manhattan, bicyclists use parking meters and parking signs as ‘hitching posts’ for bicycles… as ‘freebies’…


  3. Alan Miller

    The best argument I see for paid parking is that a certain level it will leave open a few parking spots, allowing people to pull in rather than circle endlessly, creating exponential traffic when blocks are mostly full.

  4. Don Shor

    I suggest the council appoint a task force, with representatives from all the different stakeholder and interest groups, to review the situation and develop an action plan to help improve parking downtown. They may wish to review the parking history, get input from experts, poll the public, survey the parking usage, and review the parking permit and enforcement policies. If we’re lucky, they may come to some unanimous recommendations.

    Then the council can review this issue in about six years.

    < /sarcasm>

    1. Darell Dickey


      I do wonder about some of those (Ok, only one that I really know of) “unanimous” task force members who now aren’t so sure about taking action on all of the prioritized recommendations.

  5. Ron Glick

    Actually David, the Enterprise has this one right and you are wrong, for the city its all about the money.

    Why you deny the obvious I don’t know but let me give you one example:

    Parking Task Force Recommendation #7: Shift parking enforcement hours to 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Monday – Saturday.

    So why is the proposal to go from 10am to 10pm, seven days a week? The answer is that the city needs the money to pay for the meters, the meter services and the parking enforcement. The only other way to make the budget revenue positive for the city is charge more, something that the community is against.

  6. Mark West

    The way I see it, there are two questions here. First, is paid parking the correct policy for the future management of our downtown parking resource, and second, is the proposal the correct implementation of that policy. Decades worth of data from other cities support this policy as the correct path for managing the limited resource, especially so considering the high cost of expanding parking supply. There really should be no argument here.

    While the available data supports the policy, it does not support the proposed implementation. Best practices for paid parking are to set the cost at the minimum level required to obtain the desired outcome, in this case roughly 1 to 2 open parking spots per block face at all times. The City’s own data shows that for most of the day the desired outcome already exists, so for those hours the minimum required cost is ‘none.’ For the majority of the day, parking at the meters should be free. The only times that parking should have a charge associated with it is during periods of high demand, and the associated cost should be based on what is needed to free up 1-2 spots per block face. That cost may well be $1 per hour as proposed, or it may be $5 / hour. The correct way to determine what price is through trial and error, by starting at the minimum and increasing the cost incrementally until we obtain the desired outcome, whatever it may be.

    The current $0.50/$1.00 pricing proposal is simply a lazy implementation, and as such, should be rejected. Paid parking is the correct path forward from a policy perspective, but the implementation should be done correctly, or not at all.


    1. Darell Dickey

      >> The City’s own data shows that for most of the day the desired outcome already exists, so for those hours the minimum required cost is ‘none.’ <<

      Yet isn’t the two-hour time limit partially responsible for this? That limit is one of those items that I hear complaints about the most. If we remove that time limit, then how do things look for “most of the day?”


      I agree that the 50c/$1 is not very nuanced.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Mark… I think it’s about use of public R/W (‘streets’ and sidewalks), and who should pay… private firms have taken up sidewalk space (mainly bars/restaurants) in the Core, and pay pennies on the dollar for what it takes to maintain, repair, and replace the infrastructure…

      Funny. Not….

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