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