Free parking is no myth

By Glen Holstein

Barbara West’s April 17 opinion piece claiming free parking is a myth mixes the obvious with the misleading.

Parking lots do cost for land and construction but mall stores gladly provide free parking because it increases sales more than enough to offset its costs. Street parking is different. Roads and streets are built with taxes for transportation but have edges providing the ancillary benefit of parking where it’s allowed. This isn’t a width function since parking is permitted along some narrow Sacramento streets but not on our widest thoroughfares — the freeways.

Taxes pay for Davis streets, so parking along their edges, contrary to West, isn’t a free ride.

In the past 15 years, the Davis commercial core bounded by E, F, Second and Third streets has seen a series of tax-funded projects that halved its parking capacity. Some were worthy and others not so much but the result is a parking problem artificially created by city staff, who now propose solving it with a million-dollar parking meter project.

When the Davis Parking Task Force was starting, some members invited me to attend because it lacked parking consumers. At an initial meeting, questions I asked city staff about their commercial core parking reduction were as popular as innocence evidence is to prosecutors after convictions.

It would have been easy to fix the task force’s lack of parking stakeholders at this early stage by including me, but it didn’t happen. At the very next meeting’s start, a pre-orchestrated vote (likely a Brown Act violation) specifically excluded me from the task force and erased the record of all I’d said at the last meeting. This wasn’t because I’m a disabled senior. The issues I’d raised were so dangerous they were flushed down the Orwellian memory hole.

A group of “bicycle advocates” could facilitate this vote for staff because they were so over-represented on the task force they could dominate it despite hating cars and parking. Bicycles are a fine way to travel but their task force advocates seemed to value them most as icons of their moral superiority to those of us benighted enough to drive and park cars.

Cultural historian D.H. Fischer described how persistent colonial folkways are in the modern secular world. An example is how American higher education carried folkways from its Puritan New England beginnings to college towns across the country like Davis. No doubt task force “bicycle advocate” leader Robb Davis wants to rid Davis of its cars and their drivers as dutifully as old Salem wanted its “witches” gone. If you vote for Robb, don’t say you weren’t warned.

West also misleads by claiming Donald Shoup’s big-city parking work applies to Davis. It’s obvious that street parking is inadequate where high-rises densify population. That’s where Shoup does his research. San Francisco is so hemmed in by water and mountains it can never sprawl or have adequate street parking. Shoup is right that pricing meters high enough opens a few spaces but it also helps drive all but the wealthy out of this city.

The other place West mentions, Pasadena, is a lot more like San Francisco than Davis. It’s so hemmed in by mountains and old, established communities that it can’t sprawl. It’s also the regional center for northeastern Los Angeles County, which is more populous than all but eight states.

At the other extreme, numerous rural towns were once commercially viable in the days of horses and trains but are now in terminal declines that parking meters only accelerate. Esparto and Arbuckle are examples that survive by being on busy highways.

Intermediate towns like Davis, Napa and Livermore can readily sprawl but retain fragile but viable downtown cores. Napa tried to make its core more “walkable and bikable” by restricting car parking but no one wants to walk or bike to its now-vacant storefronts. In contrast, Livermore, which encourages parking by keeping it free, has a vibrant core full of people that competes effectively with nearby malls and has become the go-to place for even bicyclists and walkers.

Davis is at the crossroads of choosing the Napa model or the Livermore model. Will it be climate change-exacerbating sprawl that destroys carbon-sequestering farms and habitat while promoting long, fossil-fuel-consuming car trips, or the other path of embracing a sustainable, compact and vibrant core kept economically viable by free parking?

— Glen Holstein is a Davis resident.

Special to The Enterprise

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