Sunday Commentary: If Businesses Don’t Want Paid Parking Downtown They Have an Alternative

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In a letter to the mayor in late January, the Davis Chamber came out against the paid parking proposal, arguing they do not “believe the proposal will enhance the unique character of the City or enhance downtown business vitality. We are equally skeptical that it will meet the objectives laid out by City planners to ‘increase parking availability.’”

They added that “the proposal, as presented to the community, does not do anything to address the real issue that must be addressed of increasing the supply of new parking spots.”

Meanwhile the DDBA (Davis Downtown Business Association) – which has supported paid parking – in their letter noted that the results of their survey of 90 responses (at least 67 were identified as downtown business owners) found that “77% do not support the City’s plan to implement paid parking downtown.”

As some have pointed out, the position taken by the Chamber is somewhat surprising, as their representative was part of the downtown task force that came up with this plan in the first place.  Even more so, it seems to run against the data we have.

But I maintain if downtown businesses and the Davis Chamber do not want paid parking, they have the ability to solve the downtown parking problem themselves.  Let me explain.  My problem at this point is that they are opposing a solution without coming forward with any alternatives.

First of all, I do not agree that this proposal is going to negatively impact the downtown.  In fact, one of the reasons people do not come to downtown right now is the perception that it will be difficult to find parking – especially during peak hours.

As I have argued before, we know from many other communities that paid parking is not death for the downtown.  It’s an important tool to help manage limited parking supplies.

The idea that people are going to drive to Woodland rather than Davis doesn’t make sense. First of all, you end up spending more on gas and wear and tear on your car than you do on parking. Second, while I don’t believe that Davis has the great restaurants that some people do, there really is no comparison between Davis restaurants and those in Woodland, Dixon, or West Sacramento.

Drive to Sacramento? You’re going to pay a lot more for gas and parking than you would here.

The Chamber in their letter argue that “a parking fee as proposed will both deter people from coming downtown, will encourage them to shop in other areas of the community or drive to neighboring communities with big box stores with free parking.”

But they present no data to support this.  In fact, the parking task force looked at many downtowns: Berkeley, Blooming (Indiana), Carmel, Chico, Corvallis and Eugene (Oregon), Newport Beach, Pasadena, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Springfield (Oregon) and Walnut Creek.  They reached the opposite conclusion looking at data.

The Chamber presents no evidence to the contrary in contrast to the several years’ worth of study by the city and the task force (of which they were themselves a member and signed off on).

The Davis Chamber argues that the real issue is “increasing the supply of new parking spots.”  The data do not support that view, but the Davis Chamber is in the position to offer a solution to that problem.  Right now, the city does not have the resources to build another parking structure in the near future.

Even if we did, I would argue we don’t need it.  But my point here – the Davis Chamber letter never offers us any sort of solution.  They ask the city “to look for a solution of new parking spaces before asking the Community to pay an additional downtown parking tax.”  But they don’t offer a single suggestion themselves.

That said, the data I have seen do not tell us that we need more spaces.  On the contrary, I have looked over the data many times and at no point in time do we have more customers than capacity.

By way of example, on Halloween I drove my kids downtown to do the downtown trick or treat.  With the construction in the Spencer Alley, we actually not only had my paid space unavailable, but there were also fewer spaces on G Street than normal.  And yet, we went into the parking garage on G and 4th Streets and it was less than half full.

In other words, even on a day very heavy in use, we had plenty of available parking spaces within a few blocks of most things in the downtown.

The parking survey data continually show that during off-peak hours there are plenty of spots throughout the downtown, and even during peak hours when the southern part of downtown is unavailable, the northern portion has less than 70 percent occupancy.

Mayor Brett Lee has said in the past that we don’t have a supply issue, “we have a parking management issue.”

He is absolutely correct.

The other key piece of data here is the fact that somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of parking spaces are taken up by employees.  Want to know the problem that we have?  It’s that people who work in the downtown are taking the spaces that should go to the people who shop in the downtown.

The Chamber argues in their letter that they do not believe that this proposal will “increase parking availability.”  I disagree.  Employees in the downtown are not going to pay money to park on surface streets – instead they will go to a parking garage or utilize their X-permits when they have no other choice.

But here again is my point – while I disagree with the Chamber on these points, they again have an opportunity to solve this problem.  They can simply make the concerted effort to bring businesses on board to the idea that their employees cannot park on the surface streets in the downtown.  They’ll have to figure out how to enforce that – but they have the ability to solve this problem.

In my view, paid parking is unlikely to deter customers and is likely to encourage business owners and employees to change their parking habits, freeing up spots on surface streets.  The task force looked at the impact in other communities and allowed the data to speak for itself.

However, if the Davis Chamber and downtown businesses are adamant and believe that this will hurt them, they need to not merely oppose the proposal, but offer their own solution.

My suggestion is to offer a six-month test, whereby the businesses make the effort to ensure that their employees park only in X-permit lots, allow the city to evaluate the parking situation, and if it improves in six months the city can forgo requiring paid parking.

However, if in six months nothing changes, the city would then go forward with the proposal.

—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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28 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: If Businesses Don’t Want Paid Parking Downtown They Have an Alternative”

  1. Don Shor

    However, if the Davis Chamber and downtown businesses are adamant and believe that this will hurt them, they need to not merely oppose the proposal, but offer their own solution.

    I really wonder why we bother to have commissions, or why anyone would ever spend the hours to serve on one when their recommendations are cherry-picked at best, ignored and dismissed at worst.

    You realize that increasing the parking supply was one of the specific recommendations of the Downtown Parking Task Force, right? But then you say: “I would argue we don’t need it.”  You weren’t on that committee. The Chamber and downtown business representatives were. 

    Here’s the executive summary:

    https://cityofdavis.org/home/showdocument?id=10944

    Please note the next to last paragraph:

    Even if the most efficient use of the available Downtown parking supply is made, increased demand for parking due to new development in Downtown and elsewhere in the City and UC Davis will create the need for an expansion of the Downtown parking inventory over time. While the Task Force recommended further study of the exact timing and best strategy to address this need, any project substantially increasing the parking supply will require multiple years of planning. Thus, the City should undertake this process as soon as possible in order to be prepared to act when appropriate. Additionally, gathering the funds necessary to undertake such a project will most likely take considerable time; thus, it is important to define the project and its costs, and the appropriate strategy to fund it as soon as possible. 

    As to this:

    The idea that people are going to drive to Woodland rather than Davis doesn’t make sense.

    No, mostly not, though some will. They’re going to go to the other shopping centers in town, which have ample, convenient, free parking.

    They can simply make the concerted effort to bring businesses on board to the idea that their employees cannot park on the surface streets in the downtown.  They’ll have to figure out how to enforce that – but they have the ability to solve this problem.

    Not really.

     

    1. Don Shor

      What is exacerbating the need for additional parking downtown is the increasing number of food and entertainment businesses, which have a proven impact on parking usage.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        To me the key data is the 15-25 percent figure for employees. While I support paid parking, my point here is that businesses actually can fix the employee parking issue themselves and cut a deal with the city to try to implement an alternative.

        1. Don Shor

          businesses actually can fix the employee parking issue themselves

          No matter where we have our businesses, we can tell our employees where to park, but we can’t enforce it.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            While that’s partially true. I tell my employees to park in the garage rather than on the street and tell them why. I can’t stop them from doing otherwise, but I can provide them with a parking permit and make it a point of emphasis. Would there be 100% compliance? Probably not. Would it reduce that 15 to 25 percent number? I think so.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Rumor was (is?) that Davis Ace would warn, then discharge an employee who was reported parking in “prime space”… whether that was an urban legend or not, will leave to others.

          A manner in which an employer ‘can enforce’, if true…

      2. Darell Dickey

        >> which have a proven impact on parking usage.

        Proven only when “free” parking is stipulated and offered.

        It has also been proven that paid parking frees up spaces, and makes downtown areas more attractive, healthy and financially robust.

        The more businesses we have in town that attract people should be celebrated. And we should concentrate on making downtown more appealing and accessible by *people.* And yet all this “parking” effort goes into accommodating more and more cars.

        People don’t equal cars. Even if one car often equals one person.

        1. Don Shor

          >> which have a proven impact on parking usage.

          Proven only when “free” parking is stipulated and offered.

          It has also been proven that paid parking frees up spaces, and makes downtown areas more attractive, healthy and financially robust.

          The more businesses we have in town that attract people should be celebrated. And we should concentrate on making downtown more appealing and accessible by *people.* And yet all this “parking” effort goes into accommodating more and more cars.

          People don’t equal cars. Even if one car often equals one person.

          The proven part refers to the different standards for the number of parking spaces needed for different types of businesses. An example you will find is one space per 250 sq. ft. of retail, versus 1 per 100 sq. ft. for a bar or restaurant. If you add more bars and restaurants, replacing retail stores with these uses, you will need more parking per square foot. This is a planning principle implemented in planning guidelines. I think we can assume it is evidence-based.
          Certainly as we see more eateries and fewer retail stores downtown, we see the parking problem increasing at certain times in certain parts of town. That is a problem which the task force recommended addressing by means of parking fees as well as increased parking supply.

          And yet all this “parking” effort goes into accommodating more and more cars.

          That’s because most people travel by car. That’s what most people prefer to do.

          1. Don Shor

            > That’s because most people travel by car. That’s what most people prefer to do. < …. when using a car is subsidized.

            Regardless of whether using a car is “subsidized.” Most people prefer to travel by car. Davis has a very high bike usage. It’s not even close to a majority. I seriously don’t think you can reasonably argue that this is strictly because of “subsidies.”

        2. Darell Dickey

          >>  I think we can assume it is evidence-based. <<

          We can assume that. And we’d be wrong. At least by today’s standards. In the past, it was always assumed that people who pay the most money at businesses arrived via cars. And the data we have contradicts this assumption. Today, and especially in Davis, that is not the case. And the process is self-selecting anyway. What should we logically expect people to do while we distort the market by subsidizing one mode over all others?

          In the meantime, we should figure out ways to subsidize car use even more to ensure that we’re serving the most people the best way?

          1. Don Shor

            In the past, it was always assumed that people who pay the most money at businesses arrived via cars. And the data we have contradicts this assumption.

            What I was saying was that the change in store types (retail to food/entertainment) requires a larger number of parking spaces per square foot. And that the planning guidelines for that assumption are probably evidence-based.
            It has nothing to do with whether people who arrive by bike buy or pay a little more per visit than people who arrive by car. I would assume that varies considerably by type of retail.

            we should figure out ways to subsidize car use even more to ensure that we’re serving the most people the best way?

            Most people travel by automobile. That is what most people prefer.
            We should make it more convenient for people to get to their destinations, whether by car or by bicycle. If you feel there is a shortage of bike parking downtown, perhaps you should pursue that. I figured it would have been brought up on the parking task force by some members there, since it seemed like a pretty well balanced committee makeup representing all stakeholders.

            You seem to want to make this a binary choice. There is broad consensus, unanimously agreed by that task force, that there is a need for more parking spaces downtown. All modes of transit are subsidized to some degree. Far, far more people in Davis prefer to do their commuting, shopping, and seek entertainment via automobile than by bicycle. That’s a fact. So it is logical that public expenditures to enhance traffic and commerce will disproportionately go to that mode of transit. Also, the task force called for more work on making public transit effective.
            I don’t get what you’re objecting to at this point.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      Don – in my view, the commission recommended both paid parking and supply. They recognized at the time there wasn’t funding for new supply. There still isn’t.

      1. Don Shor

        Importantly, the recommendations presented in this report should be considered an
        integrated package, intended for coordinated implementation.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Also, seems it would be cost effective to include the city-owned lots north of Third, to a system similar to what is currently done @ ‘the Brinley Lot’, between E & F.

    Same for City lot on G, between Second and Third.

  3. Todd Edelman

    How many people in the Chamber or DDBA have spent time in carfree areas and pedestrian zones in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere? I would imagine they would see how much more pleasant these areas are than the City of Davis Car Storage in the Public Row and Shopping Experience.

    Perhaps we can do a survey to see how many people in these orgs have passports?

    Huge amounts of affordable housing will get employees within walking and cycling distance of Davis Downtown. Paid parking at our neighborhoods’ many asphalt abominations – will bring some equity to the situation (they can all agree on rates together, or they be nasty – I am talking at you, Nugget and Co-op!). Existing peripheral lots near I-80 and CA-113 ramps can be connected with autonomous shuttles to the Downtown, so that out-of-town traffic doesn’t impact our local street grid too much.  Every new parking space in a structure costs the same as ten fancy shared e-bikes that get assistance up to 28 mph.

    All of the above will be rejected because the symbol of Davis is an anti-egalitarian anachronism that had its heyday 40 years before our city was incorporated.  It’s like if Davis was known as the “reproductive rights capitol” and the symbol was a chastity belt.

    If the Chamber and DDBA want an only slightly-better-than-average large town they should just make it clear. We can do so much better.

    1. Edgar Wai

      This basically turns downtown into a mall. There are malls that are way larger. I don’t have a problem with that. If there is a food court area then perhaps there could be more combined seating and the restaurants can serve using the same plates and utensils (like Whole Earth). Then the restaurants can be smaller and operate at reduced cost (?) because they don’t need to wash so much dishes (?). When we go to downtown to grab lunch, we don’t have to “choose” where to go, just go to the food court and have coworkers get whatever they want and eat at the same table.

  4. Jim Frame

    Didn’t the Chamber also oppose the Fifth Street road diet because it wouldn’t work, basing its stance on subjective analysis?  In my view, the results of that project have been excellent.

    1. Darell Dickey

      I can’t recall if the chamber opposed the 5th St. redesign, but certainly many business owners did. And the flawed premise then was the same as today:

      More lanes (parking or travel!) equals more cars. More cars equals more shoppers. Never-mind how the existing resources are currently utilized or managed, more is always better! And never-mind that it is PEOPLE who shop in town, not cars.

      We need to stop trying to get more cars into town, and start trying to make town more attractive to *people*.

       

  5. Ron Glick

    Perhaps you missed when I offered an alternative that would allow me to leave my car at home. Where I live if I want to take a bus downtown I must go to the University and wait around and transfer to a second bus. Going home would be a reverse process. A simple solution would be to extend the bus runs from the west side from the UCD hubs to the train station. As it is a five minute drive would take me more than half an hour each way by bus. With bus route extensions it might take a few extra minutes but it would be tolerable. A second advantage of extending the bus routes to the train station would be to obviate the need for train commuters to leave their cars all day at Amtrak.

    One of the problems that the city has is that if you don’t want the locals driving into downtown you need good alternatives. From where I live the current alternatives don’t work well. Before taxing parking as a disincentive to going downtown perhaps the city could prioritize helping people get in and out of downtown without bringing their cars by improving public transit to make it more attractive to community members with better ease of use.

    1. Darell Dickey

      I agree. Today we do everything we can to encourage private automobile use. We set aside the land, we subsidize the use, we look the other way when safety and pollution are brought up, because, convenience!… and we do all this at the expense of all other modes.

      And then we say “Look! Everybody wants to drive their car into town, so we should accommodate that more!”

  6. Don Shor

    It would be useful if staff could give an update on the progress on these recommendations, and also reaffirm their support for continuing to seek ways to increase supply.

     

    Recommendation #1: Establish paid parking in Southeast Quadrant.

    Recommendation #2: Increase employee parking location options.

    Recommendation #3: Increase employee permit fees and streamline employee parking to single “X” permit.

    Recommendation #4: Convert Amtrak Lot to paid parking.

    Recommendation #5: Restrict delivery vehicle double-parking between 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. for the area bounded by Second Street, Fourth 4 Refer to the Main Report for further elaboration of Task Force recommendations. March 2014 Downtown Parking Management Plan Executive Summary 14 Street, D Street and G Street (data could be used to refine limitations over time).

    Recommendation #6: Eliminate on-street green waste in downtown for the area bounded by First Street, Fifth Street, B Street, and the railroad tracks.

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

    Recommendation #8: Establish tiered-fine citation system.

    Recommendation #9: Upgrade parking enforcement technology.

    Recommendation #10: Invest in electronic information systems.

    Recommendation #11: Develop transportation and parking alternatives campaign.

    Recommendation #12: Collect quarterly parking occupancy and turnover data.

    Recommendation #13: Explore voluntary private shared-parking district.

    Recommendation #14: Provide van-accessible parking upon street resurfacing.

    Recommendation #15: Streetscape Improvements.

    Recommendation #16: Expand Parking Supply.

    Recommendation #17: Provide administrative resources necessary for successful implementation of the Downtown Parking Management Plan.

    Recommendation #18: Improve transit options into downtown.

    Recommendation #19: Re-examine parking in-lieu parking fee policies and procedures.

  7. Matt Williams

    Don Shor said . . . “As to this:

    The idea that people are going to drive to Woodland rather than Davis doesn’t make sense.

    No, mostly not, though some will. They’re going to go to the other shopping centers in town, which have ample, convenient, free parking.

    That is an interesting comment by Don.  He is absolutely correct that the other shopping centers in Davis do have ample, convenient, free parking.  Excluding Davis Commons and the Co-Op Center, which are in the Downtown Core Planning Area, those “other shopping centers” are:

    University Mall
    Westlake Plaza
    The Marketplace
    Anderson Plaza
    Oaktree Plaza
    Davis Manor Shopping Center
    5th Street/Spafford Shopping Center
    El Macero Shopping Center
    Target Shopping Center
    Oakshade Center

    Looking at that list, other than the Target Shopping Center, do any of those centers have true alternative retail destinations that can/could cannibalize business away from Downtown establishments.  With the exception of Cost Plus, University Mall is essentially a food court plus a grocery store.  Westlake Plaza is only a food court plus a grocery store.  With the exception of Petco and Big 5, The Marketplace is food plus Safeway.  Anderson Plaza has Aggie Ace, but otherwise is  food plus a grocery. Other than Nugget competing with the Co-Op, Oaktree Plaza poses no retail threat to Downtown.  Neither El Macero nor Oakshade have no retail that competes with Downtown.

    So the idea that retail customers go to “the other shopping centers in town, which have ample, convenient, free parking” for retail purchases that they would otherwise make downtown is an Emperor’s New Clothes argument.

    1. Don Shor

      other than the Target Shopping Center

      That “other than” is big enough to drive a delivery truck through. Virtually every retail category is available at one or another of the neighborhood or peripheral shopping centers, with a very limited number of exceptions.

      1. Richard McCann

        “That “other than” is big enough to drive a delivery truck through. Virtually every retail category is available at one or another of the neighborhood or peripheral shopping centers, with a very limited number of exceptions.”

        Don, I can’t think of any downtown retail (other than the Coop) that has a retail equivalent elsewhere in town that someone would bother driving to. All of the clothing is unique branding at higher prices (Target/TJ Maxx et al already have the lower end). Gifts/books/art are not to be found elsewhere. There’s lots of professional services downtown that are not in the hinterlands.  The restaurants and bars rely on foot traffic and social conditions that will not disappear.  I need to see concrete examples of how the same retail offerings at the same price points also exist in those other shopping centers. I’m at a loss to identify much of anything at this point. All of the retail that might have fit in those categories already left 10 years or more ago.

        1. Don Shor

          I can’t think of any downtown retail (other than the Coop) that has a retail equivalent elsewhere in town that someone would bother driving to.

          Off the top of my head:
          Premium wines.
          Pet supplies.
          Organic foods.
          Delicatessen food.
          Housewares.
          Home decorating.
          Paint and supplies.
          Lighting.
          Pictures and frames.

  8. larryguenther

    In addition to looking at other, similar towns for data on paid parking, we can also look at data from our downtown.  Much of this data is provided in the documentation for the “existing conditions” portion of the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee, which can be found on the City’s website.

    https://cityofdavis.org/home/showdocument?id=10463

    In our downtown, we have paid parking and we have free parking.  We have free 2-hour/20-minute street parking, a paid lot at the E St. plaza, a 3-hour free parking garage on G St., a free lot at the train station, a 3-hour free garage on E St., and an X-permit (paid) lot at Richards/Olive.

    The train staition lot, E St. Plaza, and E St. garage are heavily used.  The street parking in the core of downtown is heavily used.  Street parking away from the core has more availability.  The G St. garage and X-permit lot are underutilized.

    So what correlates to heavy use?  Paid vs. unpaid?  No.  Proximity to the core of downtown: i.e. E St. Plaza and the train station.  This is the area where paid parking is proposed.

    It is my experience that simplicity and convenience are highly correlated with compliance in any system.  Right now it seems to me that we have a very underutilized employee parking system (the X permit).  Why not just make that free?  What is the income we get from the X permit system?  Is foregoing that revenue worth making an employee parking system that does what we want: i.e. freeing up parking spaces in the core?  I think it is.

    The parking revenue from paid parking downtown is proposed to go toward downtown.  I agree with that.  I believe we should put some of that paid parking revenue into making the X permit free to downtown employees.  That could free up 10%-20% of parking spaces downtown, which would move the parking occupancy rate below the 85% threshold.  According to all studies I have seen, 85% occupancy is the tipping point for the perception that, “there is no parking downtown.”

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