Given the time of night it was on Tuesday and where they were in the meeting, delay made sense. But in a lot of ways the council simply prolonged the agony.
My commentary on Thursday generating good discussion, I’m going to highlight Don Shor’s comment because, while he often makes good and thoughtful comments from a more centrist perspective, I think it’s the wrong approach here.
He writes: “The council should just table this whole thing. There’s nothing close to consensus about it and the current proposal is not sufficiently explained as to its basis. I’m not proposing recreating the committee that worked on this, but the council needs to meet with those who are directly affected by it. There’s a communication problem here at the very least. I really think it’s only a very narrow interest group that supports this proposal at this point.”
There is some definite pushback he receives here. Mr. Shor further clarifies in a response, “I have said the task force made a number of suggestions and it is not implementing them in the manner that was described…”
I want to unpack these points a bit more.
My view of the situation is fairly straightforward at this point. I have read the research on paid parking, have seen the consultant report and the task force report, and have seen how paid parking works in other communities – and I largely think that the stakeholder pushback is fear-based rather than empirically grounded.
As one of the commenters noted in response, we have already had the process. The city had a multi-year task force weigh in – participants included, by the way, the Davis Chamber, Alzada Knickerbocker and Jennifer Anderson. These were key stakeholders who seem to have changed their views on this.
The task force findings and recommendations were backed up by consultant reports.
Moreover, there has been a long delay between 2014 and now to even get to this point. To put this into perspective, Robb Davis served on this task force as a citizen, before he was on the council. He went on to serve a full term on the city council and we still haven’t seen implementation of it.
Don Shor would and has responded that the task force recommendations were supposed to have been considered as “an integrated package,” and I agree that would have been ideal. The one recommendation that is being excluded, at least for now, is new parking supply.
But while Don Shor and others have rightly made this point, it is not clear to me how this changes the equation. The first problem that we have is that there simply is no availability of funding for a new parking garage. Second, I’m not really sure how having a parking garage in addition to paid parking really changes the game.
In fact, I might argue – though it would be my personal opinion – we actually at this point don’t need both paid parking and a new garage. I would argue that because right now I think we have sufficient supply to meet the demand. At the same time, adding more supply would likely help to negate the need for paid parking – at least on the margins.
If you want to hold out that we need to do both at the same time, I think you’re saying we have to do neither because a new garage has no funding. And maybe that is Don’s point, that we need to go back to the drawing board.
The problem with that is that we have already invested considerable time and energy to this approach. I agree that the stakeholders are against paid parking – about 70 percent of those who spoke on Tuesday, about 5 to 1 if you go by council emails, and even more if you read comments and letters in the local paper.
The problem I have is that none of those people are experts on this.
We get Ron Glick’s point to another commenter that he dismissed “the people affected by meters because they are not experts.” He argues: “I think I have a good grasp of the economics, the supply and demand dynamics…”
Ron goes on to argue that “knowing right and wrong is not correlated to book learnin’.”
But there are key points missing here. The first, is that we are not talking about right and wrong – we are talking about the most effective parking supply system.
Second, we are not talking merely about book learning or diplomas (as his comment diverts to) but rather empirical studies based on data in other locations, and applying our current supply and demand system to the experiences of other locations.
The third problem is that stakeholders have a vested interest in the system and therefore have become risk averse – they prefer the current system which is known, even if it is suboptimal, to an unknown system. The consultants are able to weigh in dispassionately and simply examine the data and make a recommendation.
Someone asked whether the consultants have ever not recommended paid parking. I don’t know the answer to that but I’m not sure that it really matters. First of all, the question assumes that they have some sort of stake in what they recommend – which seems unlikely. Second, they are likely to jump into situations that are similar to one we face, where there is insufficient distribution of parking resources.
Third, it is likely that their chief contribution is not whether or not to go to paid parking, but rather what that system looks like.
We finally get back to the original point I made – I think the key variable in this whole system is that we have enough parking currently, but because non-consumers (i.e. employees) are utilizing the current parking supply in disproportionate numbers, we have a scarcity of surface parking that would not exist with a better distribution.
Let me add to that point – those who are consumers of parking are in effect asking or even demanding to be free riders in this system. Parking is not free. We have skewed the market for parking by providing it to the consumers for free, but parking spaces have a cost that are borne by someone.
Those demanding access to free parking are in fact demanding that someone else pay for those spaces because they don’t want to. That comes at a cost. The cost is scarcity, at least in some locations in downtown at some times, and that scarcity comes at a cost as well. It contributes to congestion, to added emissions, and to people using their time looking for a parking spot rather than going to a parking spot and then purchasing goods and services downtown.
It also acts as a deterrent, pushing some people who might come downtown to not want to spend their time and money circling around and looking for parking spaces.
The key question that I don’t think has been decided is where that sweet spot actually is that maximizes open parking spaces and customers at the same time. That is likely to take some trial and error.
But we know from the experience at the E Street parking lot that people will choose to pay money for convenience even when there are so-called free spots in the near vicinity. Given that, all the data and analyses point to a reasonable conclusion: let us make this call and move forward rather than continue to debate this issue for the next ten years.
—David M. Greenwald reporting