Sunday Commentary: Even Before COVID Struck, Paid Parking Was Going to Be Off the Table


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.

So I got a little chuckle when I saw some of our commenters wanting to know where a person running for council in South Davis stood on paid parking in the downtown area.

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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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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58 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Even Before COVID Struck, Paid Parking Was Going to Be Off the Table”

  1. Ron Glick

    Your title is wrong. Before Covid paid parking was very much on the table with over $100,000 in the budget for planning the addition of meters at the train station and in the lot between 3rd and 4th and E and F. My sense of it was that staff was waiting until after the election to move forward. Only when the pandemic hit was the money withdrawn from the budget.

    You are taking the short to intermediate term view in this piece. The long term view is we get past the pandemic and economic activity returns to a more prosperous pace. With it might come another push for more meters.

    The people we elect in November might well be serving when the parking industry again rears its ugly head and blood sucking fangs and tries to monetize parking downtown. It is therefore not unreasonable to ask the candidates for views on the question of more parking meters downtown.

    If its such a no brainer issue, as you argue, it should be easy to answer and move on to other more pressing issues. Obviously paid parking was another area where our local elected leaders misread public sentiment. Checking in with the potential future leaders on the topic before we choose is better than not asking and suffering empowering them without a clear understanding of what views they hold on the topic.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The long view is that we’re not going to have a need for paid parking for several years and after the recent pushback it will be much longer.

    1. Keith Olsen

      Good point Ron, it would seem hard to argue that the Davis downtown is dead and won’t return for the foreseeable future but at the same time advocate for more housing and development.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        THe university is likely to rebound with attendance as soon as vaccines are available. We don’t know what the long term holds. But you’re only looking at half my point – the other half is that we were probably looking at least ten years out for paid parking even before this hit. The council saw what happened last year and they aren’t going to try to repeat that any time soon.

        1. Ron Glick

          So the university will rebound as soon as a vaccine but parking won’t? You seem to want it both ways.

          Its not that hard to ask the question on parking. Maybe you don’t think the answer is important but I do.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            The issue is not parking, the issue is the local businesses that are permanently out of business. At least this gets us back on topic.

      2. Ron Oertel

        I guess we’ll see if online learning (in general) is going to have a permanent, increased presence.

        Students will save a ton of money, in that case (while still earning degrees).  But, the city itself may never be quite the same as it was.

        (By the way, it’s generally a lot easier to get out of leases in housing that’s located on campus.)


        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Online learning is not going to be a major thing for universities for a lot of reasons. A huge part of the learning experience is the college experience.

        2. Ron Oertel

          A huge part of the learning experience is the college experience.

          Personally, I think that’s complete and total b.s.

          But, they’re getting real-life “learning experience” right now, by attempting to get out of those leases.  I think many will succeed, but that this will have other ramifications for the city (and perhaps even the willingness to make investments in student-oriented housing, etc.).


          1. David Greenwald Post author

            But you’re not an educator. You’re not talking to students. You’re not talking to educators. You’re entitled to your opinion but what I’ve seen in the last six months is a recognition by all involved of the necessity to get students back onto campuses.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I know for a fact that many students never leave home to have the “college experience”. Perhaps even most students.

          However, for those that do, that “experience” often results in crushing student debt which follows them for decades afterward – when they get more “experience” regarding how much some of those degrees are actually worth, in the working world.

          We shall see, but I suspect that online learning (and working) in general is going to have some permanent, increased presence.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I don’t know what you know for a fact to be honest. You haven’t cited anything to back up your statements. I can think of all the stuff I did, the people I met, the experiences that I had that I would not have locked away at a computer at my parents home. But again – this is not the topic of this article. It’s downtown and parking. You’ve managed to throw the conversation down a rabbit hole.

        4. Ron Oertel

          . You haven’t cited anything to back up your statements.

          Neither have you, but I believe those statistics are available.

          And that this trend will permanently increase, as well.

          Thereby impacting parking downtown as well, for that matter.


  2. David Greenwald Post author

    It’s not that I didn’t learn from the coursework, but I learned a lot from being at college. Had I don’t that from home, I would not be where I am today.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Had I don’t that from home, I would not be where I am today.

      Like my roommate said about college, ‘before I came to UCD I cudn’t even spel injuneer… now I are one!”…

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That’s the exact point – the whole COVID issue takes parking off the table for now, by the time it becomes an issue again, you’ll see it will be at least ten years before paid parking is back on the table. Maybe longer.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Although the following is understandable as a result of Covid, I hope this “taking” of public space for private use (in many cities) isn’t permanent.

    However, I suspect that it will be difficult to “take it back”:

    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.

    1. Bill Marshall

      However, I suspect that it will be difficult to “take it back”:

      You speak truth… ‘first it was the sidewalks… then it was the streets…’   Private interests benefit, with token payments, the public bears the maintenance and liability costs… “gift” of public funds/risks?

  4. Ron Glick

    “…the other half is that we were probably looking at least ten years out for paid parking even before this hit.”

    That is factually wrong. The CC voted to add meters to the two lots I mentioned above. What the CC said no to was meters on the street faces. They appropriated the money to do the planning in the budget.

    Knowing how unpopular it would be I’m willing to speculate that staff was waiting until after the election to move forward. Only because of the pandemic did the staff and CC reverse course and include paid parking to the rescissions the CC recently passed.

    Paid parking should definitely be something candidates are asked about.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I’m speculating that the half-measure that they put in was their exit strategy and that after the public reaction, they won’t revisit it any time soon and the current COVID hit to the downtown makes that an even easier call for them.

      1. Bill Marshall

        What % of downtown on-street parking has been ceded to the merchants?

        Are they paying for maintenance? Are they insuring the use, and holding the City harmless? Businesses will step forward to defend the City?

        The closures may indeed, be unlawful, given duration…

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I would have to research it. They have two blocks closed down on the weekends. Even with the parking taken up by the merchants, less than half of overall parking is being used.

        2. Don Shor

          Per Wendy Weitzel’s column:
          The Davis Downtown Business Association manages the space allocations. Participating businesses must be a part of the Downtown Business Improvement District (merchants pay mandatory membership fees if their business is downtown). Restaurants are required to have tables in front of their own address.

          City and DDBA officials plan to continue the Open Air Davis schedule for at least 10 weeks, through the end of August, possibly into September.
          Each vendor space will be separated by at least 11 feet, and streets closed to traffic will maintain a minimum of 10-foot clearance down the center for pedestrians and emergency access. Bicyclists must walk their bikes.
          During street closures, the city does not require a temporary use permit. Permits are required, however, if that business wants to use public space on other days of the week or at secondary location. Applications are free.
          Participating businesses are responsible for their customer-service areas, and must follow all Yolo County restrictions related to COVID-19, health codes and alcohol consumption. According to the news release, this includes rules related to “face coverings, table/chair spacing, sanitation and restroom accessibility, trash disposal, etc. Participating business personnel will clear tables, remove debris, and clean promptly after each seating and ensure customers maintain social distancing protocols.”

        3. Todd Edelman

          closed, closures

          Nothing is closed. It’s just a normal, relatively-narrow, downtown-type street that has some of the use of the right-of-way changed. The new use is incompatible with motor vehicle movement (outside of emergencies).

          Also in my opinion the bicycle-riding ban is ill-considered because it keeps people from going through these streets with their bicycles, reducing the chance of a spontaneous encounter, etc. , i.e. seeing a friend and suchlike whilst going somewhere else. There’s plenty of space and it’s very unlikely that anyone is going fast. If it was denser like many other pedestrian-focused streets it would be reasonable to require dismounting. The huge “road closed” signs are completely unnecessary and may also keep people away who don’t see the tables etc behind it – I recognize the need for legal or safety reasons but they have to be so large.

          Both the bike-riding ban and ridiculous sign size are counter-productive to conviviality in this particular context. Whomever is making these decisions doesn’t under modern sustainable transportation and public space theory.

  5. Ron Glick

    “I’m speculating that the half-measure that they put in was their exit strategy and that after the public reaction,…”

    It wasn’t an exit strategy it was a double down on what the advocates thought they could get away with in the face of the opposition, meters in parking lots. With the six figure appropriation  in the budget for planning you can’t reasonably call it an exit strategy.

    When the economy went bust the city couldn’t rationalize either the planning appropriation or the implementation. However thinking meters won’t come back when the economy improves is naive. If the CC wants it the staff will be more than happy to move it forward. That is why its important to ask the question.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      It was a placement that was largely symbolic and won’t impact the parking situation. The six figure appropriation for planning – I’m looking at the budget, I’m not seeing a six figure appropriation for parking and what is there is greatly reduced from previous years.

      1. Ron Glick

        Go to the June 2, 2020 meeting video item 5A at 3:51:49. It shows a $700,000 reduction to Downtown Parking. If you go to the mid-year budget update it showed an allocation of around$150,000 for planning of meter installation in parking lots.

        In his opening remarks Bob Clarke explains that the staff was speculating an 18 to 30 month window to recovery and saw this budget reduction as temporary.

        So staff spoke of a one to three year delay to putting meters in the lots while you are pulling ten years out of thin air.

        The fact of the matter is the last direction from the CC was to put paid parking in the lots and it is only not going forward at this time because of budget constraints. It is quite likely that those elected in November will have this issue before them again sometime during their terms. This makes it relevant to the current campaign and therefore a question worthy of being asked of the candidates.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That’s just for the current proposal. That doesn’t mean there will be more.

          I think it’s going to be longer to recover. I’m not sure the downtown ever will. If they put parking meters on the agenda prior to 2030, you have my permission to call me.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Really? Two years ago they put in a budget for paid parking. They still need council approval to go further. Last year council backed off the plan under public pressure. The need for paid parking is now way reduced during COVID and it’s not clear when the downtown will fully recover. But you think Ron G has this nailed? Time will tell. My prediction is at least ten years before they come back with another proposal.

  6. Ron Oertel

    There is no reason that candidates shouldn’t be asked about their position regarding paid parking downtown, even if it isn’t on the immediate horizon (beyond the public lots that they’ve already approved for it).

    And while we’re at it, ask them how they feel about any possible permanent appropriation of public space (sidewalks, streets), for private uses.  (Especially since this trend predates Covid.)


  7. Doby Fleeman

    David wrote:

    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.

    Tried visiting Sonoma, Napa or Petaluma in the past few years – I’d say they’re pretty good company to follow.

    But if not, what are your examples of desirable peer communities when making this sweeping generalization about “best practices”?

    The last ditch example – Downtown Ventura –  offered by the City’s consultants was a farce.  Their oversupply of free 4 hour Downtown parking renders the comparison moot.

    Ron’s original post is right on the money. The latest micro-policy issue now before the Downtown is restricted, reserved parking for electric vehicles.

    Why not focus your editorial ink on how the City plans to generate additional non-paid-parking revenues to support essential services?

    Or, how about: Do you think landlords should be exempted from paying fixed utility fees, connection charges and property taxes once you’ve closed by fiat tenant’s businesses and forced them to relinquish rental revenue?

    What are Council candidates views on these and other important issues?

    1. Keith Olsen

      Tried visiting Sonoma, Napa or Petaluma in the past few years – I’d say they’re pretty good company to follow.

      Ahh yes, but what about SLO?

      1. Bill Marshall

        Ahhh,,, home to that transportation icon, “SLO Transit”… someone in the marketing dept wasn’t firing on all cylinders… in reality, its had est. times of next bus, etc. for nearly 15 years, @ least on campus… still…

      2. Doby Fleeman

        Ahhh, yes, and then there’s SLO.

        A destination retail monopoly hub by any other term.  Whatcha gonna do – drive to Santa Barbara just to show em?  Same with Chico.  Same with Boulder.

        In the case of SLO, and then throw in throw in California Coastal Vacation Destination location for the Central Valley.  Oh, yeah, and also the County seat – with its own airport.

        Oh, the things you can do when you’ve got a monopoly on location within your region!

        1. Ron Glick

          Be fair Doby, you only need to go to 32 miles to Santa Maria or a little farther to Lompoc. You don’t need to go all the way to the City of Santa Barbara itself. If you do go to SB proper you can stop for pea soup in Buellton or Joe’s Cafe in downtown SB. Make a day of it. Oh you need something without it taking all day then there is plenty of paid parking in SLO.

          Plus SLO had that great beef jerky highway curio. I guess its not the anymore. The guy who owned passed away. His daughter lives in, wait for it, Davis. I ran into here at Traders Joes one day. I showed her the Santa Maria Tri-tip. We had a good laugh.

        2. Ron Glick

          Plus SLO, one of California’s best cow towns, had that great old west style beef jerky highway curio for so many years. I guess its not there anymore. The guy who owned it passed away some years ago. His daughter lives in, wait for it, Davis. I ran into her at Traders Joes one day. I showed her the Santa Maria Tri-tip. We had a good laugh. Not even El Mercado Superior in Woodland has beef jerky as good as that place in SLO.


        3. Bill Marshall

          Actually, when daughter was @ SLO we’d go into Atascadero for some shopping… Atascadero is to SLO, what Woodland is to Davis… main diff is you have to deal with the Cuesta Grade…

  8. Doby Fleeman

    Understood.  Maybe David believes he’s sufficiently justified his rationale for comparison. 🙂

    I grew up in Pasadena.  What with Caltech and PCC, maybe its another good basis for comparison?  jk

    Why its so difficult for some to acknowledge the essential differences – I’ll never understand.

    Intellectually dishonest and a complete waste of time unless you are willing to inventory, analyze and discuss the differences.

    But to say the Davis business community ignored best practices in its concerns over paid parking is outrageous.



      1. Doby Fleeman

        Spent two rigorous years at UCLA.  Exciting football with Mark Harmon and Sciarra at QB. 1975 RB victory over Ohio State.  NCAA Natl Champs under Coach Wooden and Magic Johnson.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Sorta’ back on topic… did you have a car @ UCLA?  Spent 4.67 years @ UCD… no car… neither family nor I could afford, so the only ‘parking’ I worried about was where to put my bike… and secure it…

          Schwinn Varsity… the Volkswagen of bicycles… after 40 years in Davis, bike or car (almost always manual transmission for both) never really had a problem parking downtown… grew up where there were parking meters downtown… no problemo…

          I really don’t understand the angst, on either side, of ‘paid parking’… I believe to institute it now is ill-advised… capital/enforcement costs vs. revenue stream… those who promote it seem to be ideologically/philosophically – based rather than practically; a “trendy” thingy…

          The DT businesses wanted all revenues to go to DT “goodies”  (if it was instituted)… a gift of public funds to institute it… ‘reparations’ for instituting it… at least that was the DDBA position back a bunch of years ago…

      2. Doby Fleeman

        Apologies.  Make that Marques Johnson – who was also teamed with Walton and Wilkes in ’74.  I tend to confuse players from the Lakers and UCLA during that period – beginning with Kareem.

  9. Ron Glick

    My friend from high school, Casey Corliss, played on two National Championship Basketball teams under John Wooden in those same years. The funny thing was we didn’t think it was extraoidinary to win it twice in a row because Wooden won 10 in 12 years.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Actually, Wooden coached the winning teams… but, understand your point, and agree…

      So, I’ll ‘park it there’ (to sorta’ stay on topic…)

  10. Todd Edelman

    Paid parking.

    All parking is “paid”. By someone.

    Sure, the need to manage temporary vehicle storage (in the public ROW) with time-of-use fees has lessened, unless of course we permanently-convert (return, really!), much more of the street to a more natural state (with greenery, etc.) or increase building footprints.

    Most of the energetic but not always-thoughtful analysis in this discussion seems to be based on a God-given right to vehicle storage and movement… so that when these things are not permitted things are “closed”. This unnatural philosophy has other symptoms, such as building parking instead of housing in the same footprint (e.g. at the proposed University Commons) because of an arbitrary insufficiency. (And I think some residential parking at Un’Commons is okay, so this is a reasonable concept… rather than a radical one!).

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