With a packed house and more than two hours of public comment on Tuesday, March 5, the council made the call to adjourn the meeting and reconvene. After originally scheduling the meeting on paid parking for this afternoon, the city reconsidered and determined to set the meeting for Monday, March 25, at 6:30 pm.
As an adjourned item, there will not be additional public comment. The same staff report will remain.
During the original staff presentation, the consultant’s perspective was, “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 are 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 southeast 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, and noise and frustration as drivers are unable to find parking.
“Why is paid parking the answer?” the consultant 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.
In fact, the community in general has also seemed to be 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.
As Alzada Knickerbocker, who served on the Downtown Parking Task Force and is a business owner, of the Avid Reader, pointed out in a recent op-ed, “Generally, the consultants and the community are at odds.”
She noted that the Chamber of Commerce presented 500 member names in opposition. The downtown group against metered parking provided nearly 1,000 more names.
She wrote: “Shoppers are continuing to sign petitions at downtown businesses that will further augment the current numbers.
Reasons for opposing paid parking are many. It’ll change the community feel of our downtown. It’ll be one more reason to keep customers away and compel them to shop online or in surrounding communities. Only during certain times of the day and week is parking an issue. Customers who come weekday mornings find parking readily. Paid parking could be installed incrementally — in the F Street lot, for example — and, where it currently exists, extended into the evening.
She said, “There are other mitigating solutions proposed by the city’s Parking Task Force, most notably exploring availability of existing parking, including permit parking, purchasing by businesses for their employees and improving transit options into the downtown.
“Before the council on March 25 will be the most extreme and costly remedy of all, one least capable of reversing. Most who patronize our downtown are opposed to such a measure. We call upon the council to seek solutions that will retain the friendliness and accessibility of the center of our town. We ask that the council reject metered parking where residents live, work and shop.”
We have not heard from the council yet on this matter.
During his state of the city address, Mayor Brett Lee was vague and somewhat guarded on the issue of paid parking.
“Council is supportive of downtown,” he said. “We have good intentions.
“The city has limited resources,” he said. “We don’t have $20 million for a (new) parking garage.
“With paid parking there is this understandable dislike for having to pay for parking,” he explained. “One of the ideas is to have paid parking because we don’t have the ability financially to build a new garage.”
The mayor also noted that a “good chunk of the people parking in the downtown are employees or actual students.” He said, “The question is how do we incentivize folks to not use parking spaces which would be better used by people who are shopping in our downtown?
“It’s kind of a tricky situation,” he said. “I would say that the council is open minded, we want to do what will support downtown.”
He added that paid parking is still an open question for the council.
“When you look at the big picture, it is no surprise that we would look at the idea of paid parking,” he said.
With no need for a staff report or public comment, the council could quickly get down to the business of figuring out a way forward on the highly contentious issue of paid parking.
—David M. Greenwald reporting