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E Street Plaza parking lot still a point of contention

UC Davis student Mary Anderson, a third-year nutrition major, uses a credit card to pay for parking in the west meter at the  E Street Plaza parking lot on Tuesday afternoon. She came downtown to study for a few hours at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on E Street. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | February 15, 2012 |

While Sacramento considers funding a new arena for its beloved Kings by privatizing its parking garages, the city of Davis continues to manage its own parking situation downtown.

The centerpiece of discussion when referring to downtown Davis parking is the E Street Plaza parking lot on the 200 block of E Street, which the city transformed into a paid lot a little more than three years ago.

It was the first of its kind in the downtown core and remains the only metered parking in the city.

According to Bob Bowen, the city’s public relations manager, one of the main reasons for converting the site into a paid parking lot was to give downtown visitors who wanted to park for longer than two hours a place where they could do so.

Janis Lott, parking committee chairwoman for the Davis Downtown Business Association and owner of Newsbeat, 514 Third St., added that the lot also caters to people driving downtown who absolutely need to find a parking spot.

“That lot serves a need in Davis for people who come into town and want to stay longer,” Lott said, “(and) for people who come downtown and want a go-to place where they can just park their car and pay a very nominal fee and just know that there’s probably always going to be a spot available.”

However, merchants in close proximity to the lot worried that the paid parking spaces would negatively affect their business and force customers to swear off the downtown because it eliminated almost 60 free parking spots.

Lott said for some Davis business owners and customers, the unfavorable reaction to the addition of paid parking was understandable.

“For local people, it’s a hard pill to swallow because we’re so accustomed to having it be free,” Lott said.

But because the economy went belly-up soon after the city converted the lot and because Target opened on Second Street in Mace Ranch as well, it’s hard to say exactly what effect the paid lot has had and continues to have on the surrounding downtown shops.

Some business owners, like Dan Urazandi of Bizarro World, a comic book store at 223 E St., say that just because a paid parking lot isn’t the only contributing factor to merchants’ struggles doesn’t mean the issue should be ignored.

“Right now we’re not getting any new retail in the downtown,” Urazandi said Tuesday. “Shops are closing and there are numerous factors. Certainly the economy is a major factor, I consider Target to be a huge factor and you add all these things together.

“But there are some things you can do something about, and some things that you can’t. You’ve got a perfectly good lot that runs about 30 percent full. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I look at the thing and it’s never full except at night, of course, when they turn off the paid parking.”

Jeff Simons, owner of Watermelon Music, 207 E St., has watched some neighboring businesses close. Though he also understands parking isn’t the only contributing factor, he can only put two and two together.

“It was the most convenient parking, the most accessible and full lot right there in our vicinity and it became a paid lot,” Simons said. “If there’s any way to send people away from the downtown and to get them to buy at a box store it’s by making parking downtown as difficult as possible.”

Lott, however, says it’s not that simple. Even when the parking lot was free, the downtown streets still clogged at high traffic times.

“There are challenges in trying to manage parking in downtowns and to make it walkable and nice so people don’t mind parking a little farther away,” Lott said. “Because there are key parts in the day when there’s so much congestion that you don’t have parking spaces available to you, people circle over and over again to get a really close space, which adds to the congestion.”

There may always be a fundamental disagreement about the lot in terms of how it affects downtown businesses, but on the city’s end, things are beginning to look up.

Stacey Winton in the city’s Community Development and Sustainability Department, says the parking lot has seen a steady increase in use since it was converted in 2008.

“I think people are used to it and know how to use it now and are using it more frequently,” Winton said. “It’s becoming more convenient.”

In September, the city took over management of the parking lot and the meters from Central Parking and now collects approximately $2,400 per month in net revenue from the lot. Estimates are that the amount will rise to $3,200 monthly this year.

Katherine Hess, community development administrator, said the city doesn’t have any immediate plans to add more paid parking, but added that it’s up for continual consideration.

“There are strong opinions on all sides of that issue,” Hess said. “And it’s not something that wouldn’t be done without a public process.”

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash

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Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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