As someone who drives downtown to work every day—even now—I have a lot of frustration with the way things were handled by the city and the community with regard to paid parking in the downtown area.
Unlike most downtowns across the state, we have decided not to implement paid parking as part of a comprehensive parking management plan. That went against best practices. I also found it odd that downtown businesses would be so strongly opposed to a system that would make it far easier for their customers to find a place to park.
Then an initiative that would have prohibited paid parking as well as attempt to increase the number of auto spaces failed to qualify for the the December 27 deadline.
That seems like a long time ago. That was announced just over two months before COVID-19 hit and now the world looks so completely distant that people are going to have to re-think their views.
Honestly, I felt that the initiative was not only illegal—it would have violated ADA in the view of a few attorneys familiar with the subject—but it was unnecessary. The city council last spring caved thoroughly on paid parking, under pressure from businesses and citizens alike, and so it was highly unlikely that the issue was going to come up again for at least another ten years—and that’s probably optimistic.
I have good news to report on the parking front—we have solved the downtown parking problem for the foreseeable future. Albeit not in a good way.
Even with large swaths of parking spaces being taken up with outdoor setting along G Street as well as on 2nd Street, even with those streets completely shut down Friday through Monday, there is plenty of parking right now. At least half the spaces are vacant, even during peak hours.
None of this is of course good. Some restaurants have been able to adapt by having some outdoor seating. The city has attempted to accommodate them by allowing businesses to remain open outdoors or for take out.
But the reality is that the downtown has been decimated. And with the latest round of shutdowns due to COVID, the matter is only going to get worse. You can walk downtown and see the number of businesses that have had to close. Some will never re-open.
We probably will not have a sense for how much damage this has done until the world starts to return to normal. Maybe that will happen next winter or spring—if we get a reliable vaccine that enables people to return to a somewhat normal life.
But will the downtown ever return to the way it was? Long before COVID hit, retail had dropped off. The downtown shifted toward a restaurant and entertainment model—a model that now doesn’t work because most people won’t risk eating out, bars are closed, and the entertainment industry has been all but wiped out.
The city put forth an ambitious downtown plan that aimed at better utilization of scarce space and densification. Even though the fiscal models suggested the limited ability to make a mixed-use densification project pan out under the current conditions without subsidies from redevelopment agencies.
So now what? Even when the pandemic ends, the world may well have changed permanently. Businesses that have gone under will not return. Local business people have seen their resources frayed. People have learned that they can work remotely more easily than they thought.
Bottom line the Davis Downtown faces what could be an existential crisis in the coming years. It will likely take years to rebuild.
That means that with half the spaces empty, the likelihood of parking problems is quite limited. Paid parking is not going to be on the radar again until and unless things return to what they had been. And even when they do, it will take awhile before we return to the issue of parking.
Maybe by then we will have moved away from the single-user vehicle. Maybe we will have shifted transit and transportation priorities. Who knows.
Bottom line: we are facing a lot of very serious problems in this community, but paid parking should be the least of our worries.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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