Guest Commentary: Freedom to Park Initiative

by Diane Swann

In a commentary in the Davis Enterprise regarding the Freedom to Park (FTP) Initiative, supporters claimed that upon hearing all the facts many opponents were at least willing to put it on the ballot.

The electorate is skewed toward car owners

Anyone signing the FTP Initiative just to put it on the ballot, however, may be unwittingly tilting the scale toward passage. According to the Chamber of Commerce, Davis has a population of 66,000 of which 35,000 are UCD students. Six thousand students cannot vote because they live on campus and UCD is not part of the City. Students on visas living off-campus are not eligible to vote. For many students, paying for parking is a moot point because they can’t afford a car. The bottom line is that students are under-represented in the electorate while being over-represented among bicyclists and pedestrians.

According to data from the Chamber the average annual family income in Davis is $134,000. Most voters will come from these affluent households that own and operate multiple cars. If the initiative reaches the ballot, it won’t be the general public asking themselves if they want a gift of “free” parking. It will be the electorate, which is skewed toward car owners.

FTP Initiative vs Davis Downtown Specific Plan

It is in the City’s interest to have a flourishing downtown, and our city leaders are working hard to make that happen. The City of Davis hired a consultant, who along with a 15-member Advisory Committee, developed a vision for the downtown over a two-year period with opportunities for public participation. Thousands of public comments have been received. Their draft plan, The Davis Downtown Specific Plan (Specific Plan) has now been generated and the public has until January 14, 2020 to comment.

The two competing visions, the Specific Plan and the FTP Initiative, are distinctly different and incompatible, so a choice must be made. How we allocate and use our precious land resources is a large part of the decision.

The FTP Initiative mandates a minimum of 1,888 car and bike parking spaces, which according to the sponsors is more than the City has now. The sponsors are using the FTP Initiative to require the City to replace 120 car parking spaces which they claim the City has removed. Their public statement “Now by law [the City] will have to do what they should have done…” suggests they may initiate a lawsuit to enforce it.

In stark contrast, nothing in the Specific Plan is mandatory. The Specific Plan seeks to encourage sustainability, active transportation, and beneficial uses of public space to serve the broad population. It tailors each block’s buildings, streets, parking areas, and public areas to create a vital mixed-use downtown. By incorporating more residential space downtown, it would enable more people to live car-free. It suggests some underground parking.

Proponents of the FTP Initiative would maximize car parking by using more perpendicular and angled parking, citing C Street behind the Farmer’s Market as their perpendicular parking model.

A move to perpendicular car parking is not trivial, but rather calls for jackhammers. Behind the Farmer’s Market, the street has been expanded into the sidewalk area. At the same time that the sidewalks would shrink to accommodate perpendicular car parking, the FTP Initiative would require all existing on-street bike parking be moved to the sidewalk area and 250 bike racks be added. At least nine restaurants already make full use of their sidewalk space for outdoor eating.

Both perpendicular and angled parking are incompatible with bike lanes. Two streets, Third and F, have bike lanes. Our historic Third Street bike lane is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as the first bike lane in the nation. The Specific Plan suggests ways to commemorate it, while the FTP Initiative might eliminate it.

As the Chamber’s website notes, Davis has earned a reputation as the Bicycling Capital of the U.S. The League of American Bicyclists awarded Davis a Platinum Level Bicycle Community. But the League evaluates cities annually and that award is ours to lose.

Use of money from paid parking

The money raised in other cities that have successfully implemented paid parking has been used to beautify the downtown and provide amenities. The FTP Initiative proponents reject the idea that this will happen in Davis. I checked with a council member on that. His response:

“We extensively modeled the implementation of paid parking in the [downtown] lots and concluded there would likely be a net fiscal benefit to the city after paying for the costs of the parking system. In the motions approved by council we directed that the city earmark these net revenues to benefit downtown..”

The FTP Initiative can only be amended or repealed by another vote.

Whereas the Specific Plan offers a mixed-use vision of the downtown and provides flexibility, the FTP Initiative would lock us into a parking lot model. Our future calls for new ideas and flexibility, but changes to the FTP Initiative can only be made through another vote by the electorate. The minimum number of parking spaces must be provided within one year of adoption. By the time any initiative to repeal or amend could be launched, the required changes will have been made, perhaps even in concrete. Managing parking via the ballot box is as slow and cumbersome a system as anyone could devise.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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33 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    Proponents of the FTP Initiative would maximize car parking by using more perpendicular and angled parking, citing C Street behind the Farmer’s Market as their perpendicular parking model.

    Well that kills it for me.  Both types of parking are very unfriendly to bicyclists.  Angled reverse parking is the only thing that would be acceptable.  Perpendicular?  Forget it.

    Our historic Third Street bike lane is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as the first bike lane in the nation.

    whoopie . . .

    The Specific Plan suggests ways to commemorate it, while the FTP Initiative might eliminate it.

    “might” ?  Care to explain how?  Third Street is a vital bike connector from and beyond campus and eastward.  “might eliminate” requires a HOW SO?

    Davis has earned a reputation as the Bicycling Capital of the U.S. The League of American Bicyclists awarded Davis a Platinum Level Bicycle Community. But the League evaluates cities annually and that award is ours to lose.

    And it should be lost . . . lest we think we are doing well.  I bicycle in several cities in the East Bay that are kicking Davis’ arse the last several years, while Davis has sat on its laurels.

    1. Darell Dickey

      >> “might” ?  Care to explain how?  Third Street is a vital bike connector from and beyond campus and eastward.  “might eliminate” requires a HOW SO?<<

      Point is that if we move to perpendicular parking in that area (like C Street next to the Farmer’s Market) there is no way to keep the existing bike lanes on the street.

  2. Sharla Cheney

    I think that we need to focus on repairing increasingly degraded streets and bike paths throughout the City before we spend any more money on another redesign of downtown streets.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Residential development doesn’t even pay for itself, in many instances.  Let alone trying to force it to pay for pre-existing expenses.

        From article:  “At least nine restaurants already make full use of their sidewalk space for outdoor eating.”

        Is that right?  Also, is that legal – given that the sidewalk doesn’t belong to them and is intended to provide a pedestrian right-of-way?

        Businesses in San Francisco try this crap, as well. Sometimes even “taking over” street parking (with approval from the city), as essentially part of their private dining space. (“Technically” – open to anyone who wants to sit there. Yeah, right.)

        A commandeering of public space, for private use. Ultimately, you can thank “density efforts” for this result.

        As a side note, downtown Davis seems pretty healthy to me. Lots of restaurants, etc.

        1. Darell Dickey

          >> Also, is that legal – given that the sidewalk doesn’t belong to them and is intended to provide a pedestrian right-of-way? <<
          We need a word for that flat space between the face of a building and the curb at the gutter. Somewhere in this space we usually find a sidewalk. In the prettier places there are trees and grass too. And in real communities like Davis, some people sit, socialize and even eat and drink there. The sidewalks themselves are left available for pedestrian use… so that concern is a non-starter.

          Proper street design in downtown would take into consideration the entire cross-section from facade to facade. And it would be flexible to change with the times. The Specific Downtown Plan is attempting to do this thoughtfully. The “Freedom to have fully-subsidized parking” folks are going about this in quite the opposite way. Lock in our cherished car parking as if the future will look just like the past, and assuming that there is no better use of pavement than driving or parking a car on it.
          >> Businesses in San Francisco try this crap, as well <<
          This crap that isn’t crap, or some other crap?

          1. Don Shor

            We need a word for that flat space between the face of a building and the curb at the gutter. Somewhere in this space we usually find a sidewalk. In the prettier places there are trees and grass too. And in real communities like Davis, some people sit, socialize and even eat and drink there.

            Usually it is, or has, an easement, and various uses are permitted. Sometimes they’re literally permitted — as in someone pays a fee to get a permit to be allowed to encroach on an easement.

        1. Bill Marshall

          If true, it would not be ‘right’…. but, it is untrue.

          A commandeering of public space, for private use. Ultimately, you can thank “density efforts” for this result.

          Not possible.   The City may grant permits, but that is not ‘commandeering’.

          Sidewalks in the Core are within City right of way.

          None of this has to do with “density efforts”.

          Two strikes.

           

        2. Alan Miller

          Businesses in San Francisco try this crap, as well. Sometimes even “taking over” street parking

          I believe ‘this crap’ has been done in Davis as well, but if I’m wrong, please give correct details.   Where I believe it has happened is in front of Thai Canteen and Burgers and Brew — probably others.  I believe both these locations took over street parking.  As I have heard it said that adding parking in downtown would require a structure, and therefore each new parking space would be $40,000 apiece, I have wondered what these businesses paid for the permit to remove parking spaces, and if it was anywhere near $40,000.  Does anyone out there in the Davis ether know?

        3. Ron Oertel

          Bill:  “None of this has to do with “density efforts”.

          Forcing communities to accept the impacts of increased density has everything to do with “density efforts”.  And that ultimately includes commandeering of public space (whether it’s sidewalks or streets).

          It’s not just “my concern”, nor is it limited to San Francisco. It occurs in places where density is such that parking is no longer available, and the cost of businesses providing it (or even space for their own dining space needs) becomes prohibitive.

          It’s the same reason that those attending church services have been essentially “allowed” to break parking laws, in San Francisco.

          Instead of calling the result “parklets”, I’d call them “park-less”.

          “Yet questions are growing about the use of public space for the benefit of private businesses such as restaurants and cafes that can afford to build one to essentially expand their seating areas.”

          “Berkeley’s new parklet ordinance also requires the spaces have signage saying they are for public use. Still, it’s hard to determine how public it is. At a glance, the Cheese Board Collective’s parklet is a fenced-off space along Shattuck Avenue, often filled with folks who have made a purchase at the pizza spot. It functions as an extension of the dining room.”

          https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/SF-parklet-proliferation-raises-concerns-about-13635952.php

        4. Alan Miller

          It’s the same reason that those attending church services have been essentially “allowed” to break parking laws, in San Francisco.

          This is easily explained:  God is more powerful than the SFPD.

        5. Ron Oertel

          I was going to ask, “where would Jesus park” – but it might be in bad taste.

          Regardless, it’s clearly an effort to accommodate those attending religious services (who *gasp* aren’t arriving on bicycle).

          (It does impact others using cars or bicycles, though.)

        6. Darell Dickey

          From Alan:  I believe both these locations took over street parking.  As I have heard it said that adding parking in downtown would require a structure, and therefore each new parking space would be $40,000 apiece <<

          This “commandeer” and “take over” language is a bit odd. The businesses have a permit, and they pay money to use that city resource. I do not know how much is payed for the use, but I’m quite confident that the amount being payed for the street space is infinitely more than a car driver is directly paying for using similar areas. (I guess cars “took over” the streets from bicycles… and horses. They certainly “took them over” from pedestrians.

          I can’t speak for others, but I don’t go downtown to find a great parking spot. I go downtown to patronize businesses. To shop, eat, drink. If a restaurant can seat more customers instead of parking one more car, I’m onboard with the paying customer, thriving community aspect. Are parking spaces really more of an attraction than a desirable destination?

          I’ve said it forever: We need convenient, comfortable and safe ways to allow people to visit our downtown. We need to focus on providing for PEOPLE, not merely pretending that people=cars. But it is going to require some change. And change is scary.

        7. Ron Oertel

          “I can’t speak for others, but I don’t go downtown to find a great parking spot. I go downtown to patronize businesses. To shop, eat, drink.”

          I’m guessing that you arrive at your destination in the same way that Jesus might. 😉

          But, most mere mortals do not.

          Of course, making it more difficult to park would increase the ratio of Jesuses, compared to everyone else. Trouble is, there aren’t enough Jesuses to make up for the loss of mortals.

        8. Darell Dickey

          Just to be clear: I don’t want it “more difficult to park.” What I want are easy, safe, comfortable, clean and sustainable ways for everybody to visit and enjoy downtown. Paying for every car owner to arrive by private motor vehicle ain’t it.

          In the current condition where our downtown has been “taken over” or “commandeered” by cars, this is not the case.

          This article on which we’re commenting is about an initiative that wishes to lock us into one, inflexible future of downtown transportation. To put it mildly, I think that is a mistake.

          And from what I know of the man Jesus… My guess is that he wouldn’t spend much time trying to figure out a way to ensure that the public continues to pay for him to park his SUV at the curb.

        9. Ron Oertel

          In addition to what is essentially the privatization of public space (whether it’s sidewalks, or commandeering of parking spaces for business purposes), one wonders if these spaces sometimes become “de facto” homeless shelters – much to the chagrin of the business owners who take over these spots.  (In addition to concerns regarding blocking public right-of-ways/pedestrian traffic.)

          The changes are significant since planters and other installations were put in some neighborhoods to deter homeless people from sleeping in front of businesses.

          Some fixtures have affected accessibility for people with disabilities and can block bus stops, board members said, and the installations could also cause a safety hazard.

          https://www.dailynews.com/2019/09/16/la-public-works-board-approves-new-sidewalk-encroachment-policies-for-further-consideration/

          In response to complaints in recent months about downtown sidewalks becoming more and more crowded with outdoor seating and sandwich-board signs, the city has launched a concerted effort to get more businesses to comply with what is and isn’t allowed on city sidewalks. 

          https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2014/05/02/palo-alto-cracks-down-on-businesses-infringing-on-sidewalks

          Bottom line: If you want to expand your business activities, do it on YOUR OWN SPACE.

        10. Rik Keller

          I’m generally for the “commandeering” of parking spaces for other public uses. But the “parklet”on E Street between 1st and 2nd was a bargain for the businesses. The City doesn’t seem to be charging fees based on actual value: “ The city collected $750 for the project up front… and will collect $100 per year for the next four years to renew the permit.” (source: Enterprise)

        11. Ron Oertel

          Rik:  Thanks for pointing that out, regarding inadequate fees.

          Part of what I (and others, apparently) have a “problem” with is that it’s not truly “public use”.

          To repeat a quote from an article, above:

          “Yet questions are growing about the use of public space for the benefit of private businesses such as restaurants and cafes that can afford to build one to essentially expand their seating areas.”

          https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/SF-parklet-proliferation-raises-concerns-about-13635952.php

        12. Darell Dickey

          To put the fee into perspective, how does it compare with a car driver paying *nothing* directly for it? If we’re going to get excited about the business needing to pay the spaces’ worth, why not have the people who park there pay for what it is worth?

          Don’t we want what is best for our downtown businesses? Isn’t that a huge reason that the FTP folks are proposing this “no fee” parking? To help the struggling businesses?

          I’m so confused. Can’t we all just have everything for free so that we can all benefit form all this free stuff and have more money left over to not spend on the other free stuff that the city should be giving us?

        13. Ron Oertel

          Darrell:  If you’re arguing that car travel is subsidized, I suspect that you’re correct.  Then again, the same roads/parking that is needed for customers is also used by residents, visitors, deliveries to businesses, and bicycles.  (Well, bicycles don’t take up much space, but there’s certainly been some complaints about JUMP bicycles parked on sidewalks.)

          And, we’ve all seen what happens when delivery trucks don’t have a space – they simply “double-park”, further impacting traffic flow. (By the way, this is another infraction that doesn’t seem to be consistently enforced in “dense” cities.)

          If it were up to me, I’d probably increase the gas tax.  But then, some will complain that it’s a regressive tax, impacting those who are less-wealthy.  In addition, it would not impact those who drive electric/hybrid cars as much – which nevertheless still take up parking spaces.

          Allowing dining establishments to use street space puts other types of businesses (who don’t need such space, but still rely upon customer parking) at a disadvantage.  It’s a privatization of public space.

          (Note that one of the articles I posted included a complaint from a business which apparently did not benefit from his “neighbor’s” privatization of public space.)

        14. Darell Dickey

          >> If it were up to me, I’d probably increase the gas tax.  <<

          Doesn’t it make the most sense to charge directly for the service or product? Charge correctly for gas. Charge correctly for parking. Why charge more for gas so that people can have “free” parking? Why charge everybody for parking (general fund money from our taxes) even if they never park in town?

          The only way to make rational transportation decisions is to see and feel how much it costs… to burn fuel, to maintain roads, to provide parking. But so much of that is hidden from view, and having it paid with public money means that it is basically “unmetered” from the users’s point of view. So when it is time to make a decision or an investment in transportation… how can that decision be appropriately informed?

  3. Richard McCann

    No one has a property right in free parking downtown. This initiative attempts to create such a property right. Downtown businesses have a right to pay to use the space in front of their property. You may not like the negotiated price, but that is very different from not having a right to do so.

    The initiative is truly misguided in trying to lock in a policy decision for future generations that will be difficult to overcome. I wonder if the initiative proponents are climate change deniers? What is their proposed solution to reducing GHG emissions from vehicles?

    I’ll also point out that increased density is a benefit for many of us. And the rising real estate prices in the increasing density of the Bay Area (and other cities on both coasts) indicate that increased density is a desirable trait, not a burden for most.

  4. Alan Miller

    The city collected $750 for the project up front… and will collect $100 per year for the next four years to renew the permit.”

    to put it another way, taxpayers subsidized 97% of the value of this space for the benefit of a couple o’ businesses.

    I’m not pro-car, but I’m not anti-car either, and am very pro-alternative.  But if we are truly short of parking, businesses should pay the full value of a replacement space.

    DDD:  I think the best realistic alternative to get people around downtown were the rickshaws.  I was hopeful, but for some reason they are gone.

    3rd street should be a bicycle-corridor connecting east and west Davis via downtown, bike/ped only from C to F, X-ing with a E-Street mall one block in either direction from 3rd, with cars allowed for pickup/delivery/handicapped only.  This allows everyone within one-block of all stores and car access as necessary, and keeps circulation around the entire perimeter.

    1. Bill Marshall

      3rd street should be a bicycle-corridor connecting east and west Davis via downtown, bike/ped only from C to F, X-ing with a E-Street mall one block in either direction from 3rd, with cars allowed for pickup/delivery/handicapped only.  This allows everyone within one-block of all stores and car access as necessary, and keeps circulation around the entire perimeter.

      Hard to parse this paragraph, Alan…  are you saying no travel, except for bicycles/pedestrians, cars (& trucks?) associated with business deliveries/HC (mobility-challenged?) on Third from C to F?  If so why not University to G?

      And, to what purpose?  What are the gains, knowing that major changes will have significant impacts on other routes in the downtown network…  and how the “only” could be effectively enforced…

      Would appreciate clarity as to what you propose, and why…

      1. Alan Miller

        Every term you used, WM, was auto-centric.  Consider from the point of view of bicycles and pedestrians, and all your questions are answered.  This allows circulation for cars all around within a one-block walk of any business.  There is a national trend is having such alternative-transit-centric roads.  For an example, see the plans for Castro Street in Mountain View.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Cool your non-car jets for a sec., Alan… YOU were the one who appeared to allow non-bicycle ped modes… I wrote,

          are you saying no travel, except for bicycles/pedestrians, cars (& trucks?) associated with business deliveries/HC (mobility-challenged?) on Third from C to F?  If so why not University to G?  and,

          And, to what purpose?  What are the gains, knowing that major changes will have significant impacts on other routes in the downtown network…  and how the “only” could be effectively enforced…

          And I get, in return,

          Every term you used, WM, was auto-centric.  Consider from the point of view of bicycles and pedestrians, and all your questions are answered.

          Cute.  Non-responsive, but cute.

          You have not addressed why cars (and trucks?) should be allowed for business deliveries or HC drop off/pick-up, and how the restrictions could be enforced.

          You have not addressed the limits of the ”autoban”… looks like if ‘peripheral streets’ like Fifth, Fourth, First, with G-C being ‘waze’ of working the maze, took the additional traffic onto those streets, all would be good.  At least that’s what I have to assume, based on your response.  Would be interesting.

          I asked for clarification, and your response felt disproportional, as well as non-responsive, with a hint of snark.  Whatever… in any event, enjoy the rest of the week,and best to you and yours in 2020.

           

           

           

  5. Diane Swann

    We can have all the ideas we want about bicycle/pedestrian corridors downtown, but  if this initiative passes, the City will be hard pressed to implement any of them. Its focus will be on squeezing in more parking spaces. Using any of Third Street for angled or perpendicular parking would interrupt the bike lane. The Downtown Davis Specific Plan suggests that the Third Street bike lane could be commemorated with signage, paving, public art or other landscaping improvements. We should be defending our Platinum Bike Level Community status, not relinquishing the honor for the sake of free parking.

    https://www.cityofdavis.org/home/showdocument?id=14077

    We may not know how the configuration of the streets will be paid for, but the initiative makes it clear that drivers will not be paying.

    The permit fees for easements may need to be adjusted periodically, but I would argue that we should error in the direction of encouraging alternative land uses. For a century Americans have leaned toward subsidizing the automobile by devoting a tremendous amount of land to free parking. At some point certain subsidized should be phased out. This initiative locks in the free parking subsidy. If you want to talk about commandeering public space, this initiative does it for the automobile.

     

    1. Darell Dickey

      I love that last bit, Diane.

      Nothing commandeers (or takes over) public space like the private automobile does. Why are so many people OK with that, and decry other uses? Clearly not everybody owns or drives or parks a car in town. But we set aside an astonishing amount of “public space” that can only be used for storing cars.

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