Sunday, March 1, 2015

Parking in downtown Davis: supply, policy or pricing issue?


Kathleen Lee of Davis feeds the parking meter in the E Street Parking Lot in January as she takes her kids for music lessons at Watermelon Music across the street. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

Why is it so hard to park in downtown Davis at selected times? I sat through a year of meetings on a task force that was asked to look into the downtown parking situation. The recommendations of that task force were made public at a City Council meeting in December. On Tuesday, March 25, the City Council will again listen to staff and their recommendations.

As a property owner and business owner, I am worried and upset. I feel like the task force missed the opportunity to focus on the major issue facing the downtown. We do not have an adequate supply of parking.

Why? Four key reasons.

* New construction was allowed downtown without providing for parking or paying in-lieu fees to provide for future parking lots or structures. (This continues today under current policy.)

* Existing space was converted from low parking demand (office/retail product) to high parking demand restaurant space.

* Our town has grown, and therefore, more people want to visit downtown Davis.

* Employees working downtown park in the core of downtown because there is not adequate space for them to park in X permit spaces or on the periphery. At night, this is a big concern to nighttime employees who move their cars in closer as it gets dark.

Policies implemented by the city have created the parking problem. These must change. Like most cities, we must begin to employ and enforce realistic parking standards in connection with all applications involving change in use or additions of square footage. This is standard practice in most cities.

A second part of the problem is employer polices. Many employers do provide permits or parking spaces for their employees but many don’t. Employers must create and enforce parking policies that keep employees safe but not competing for parking spaces with our customers while they are at work. Together, the city polices and employer polices will help improve the problem but not fix it totally.

The price of parking is complicated. Every neighborhood shopping center has free parking. This creates an expectation of free parking by the consumer. In order for downtown businesses to compete, we need to offer free parking downtown. We are not a major city with a thriving job market, we are college town with lots of low-income students and families plus plenty of retired people. We need to increase supply and offer some spaces with longer-term parking.

While the parking task force suggested 19 items to improve parking, its recommendations were in no order of priority. Paid parking spaces were nearly the last item discussed by the committee and there was not unanimous support for paid parking. It was the most controversial of all the items.

The technology investment to monitor and enforce paid parking is very costly. Who will pay? The shopper and consumer will pay. We do not need an additional expense or a reason to not shop downtown. As a parking task force member, I voted in support of 17 of the 19 recommendations and urge the City Council to defer implementation of the paid parking option until we have a definitive plan to address the underlying problem — increased parking supply.

I believe that creating paid parking without offering our estimated 2,000 to 3,000 downtown employees an option to park safely within a reasonable distance of their job will only increase the problem of moving cars every two hours, and will leave customers with no place to park and angry because they must pay.

We need a new supply of parking now. As we determine the new supply locations, we need to implement the list of suggestions in an orderly fashion before we implement paid parking.
Please let me know your opinion, and please tell the City Council, Planning Commission and staff your opinions, too.

Let’s keep downtown successful, thriving and lively. Shop, eat and play in downtown Davis.

— Jennifer Anderson is co-owner of Davis Ace. Reach her at [email protected]



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