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Did the Council Listen to Citizens on Parking? Process and Outcome

City Council Out of Step on Parking, Roads, Housing, and the Claw: Will it Impact the 2020 Council Race?

Checking-pulseTonight, the City Council will decide whether or not to convert approximately 32% of downtown parking to metered parking spaces, 7 days a week, 10 AM-10 PM.  The opposition to the City’s proposal from citizens and business owners has been vocal and voluminous. 

Will the City Council nonetheless vote to proceed with the plan?  And if they do, will voters next spring remember and think twice about re-electing incumbents?

This is not the first indication that the Council isn’t communicating well with its citizens. 

Last June, Measure I, a street and bike path parcel tax, was rejected by citizens when it failed to get the necessary 2/3 vote.  Why is that?  Davis’s roads and bike paths are clearly in horrible shape.  The vote should have been a slam dunk.  That it wasn’t seems like an indication that citizens do not fully trust this Council or are otherwise unhappy.

More recently, residents have been frustrated with changes to Mace Boulevard that simply do not seem to make sense.   According to the linked article, the $3 million project has been in the works since 2013, but did the City Council check in with citizens again before the work began?  Apparently not.  A lot can change in that amount of time, and what might seem to have made sense in 2013 does not necessarily make sense in 2019.

And then there is The Claw, the City’s beloved formerly-weekly on-street pickup of branches, leaves, and other organic debris, also known as LITS (Loose in the Streets).  The City solicited citizen feedback on reducing the LITS program to 16 pickups per year, 15 pickups per year, and 12 pickups per year (see details here).  A majority of citizens preferred either no change to the current program or the option with the most number of pickups.  So what did the City Council do?  It voted in favor of a proposal that hadn’t even been presented to Davisites and that had fewer pickups than the proposals that citizens had rejected.

The Trackside development likewise brought significant community opposition when developers put forward a proposal that seemed far out of character for the existing neighborhood.  The project, aimed at wealthy tenants, would have towered over the existing neighborhood.  With the City Council refusing to listen to citizens, the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association was forced to bring a lawsuit.  Now a Yolo County judge has issued a tentative decision siding with the neighborhood, finding that the city did not comply with the General Plan and design guidelines in approving Trackside.

There is an old debate about whether politically-elected decisionmakers should represent the will of the people or whether they should act in accordance with their own best judgment of what is right.  Of course, neither extreme is right.  There is always a balancing act between the two approaches.

The question is whether the current Council has tipped the balance too far away from what citizens want, and tonight could be decisive.  After all, there are other Davis citizens who seem to have a better finger on the pulse of the City and who have not been afraid to stand up and speak out concerning one or more of the issues above, such as Daniel Urazandi, Colin Walsh, Nancy Price, Ezra Beeman, Susan Rainier, and Larry Guenther.  Some of these people were candidates in the last Council race.  Some could be candidates in the next.

Davisites should pay attention to what happens tonight and think carefully about who genuinely represents them.


Todd Edelman

"Hi. I am the Claw. The Davis Claw. For a time the buzz was that I was going to be the symbol of Davis - for most of the discussion that you mentioned it looked I like I might indeed displace the pennyfarthing/high-wheeler, YES!, that I would take over from that other anachronism...

"Unfortunately for me and all good, family-oriented Clawist Fundamentalists... the Commissions dealing with things like following state policy and bicycle safety were able to get my lovely piles off of the streets about 5 months out of the year... in theory... we shall see how it works. So in this case there was some kind of balanced decision: At one end there was desire to mostly keep me happy, and on the other side were silly things like preserving the quality of the Yolo Bypass and special interest cyclists. In the end the Council voted a typical compromise.

"It's true that the results were not one of the plans under consideration. To the credit of Council and Public Works staff, late in the process I know that the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission (BTSSC) was able to give their concrete input on the matter. This was actually the night that Natalie Corona was killed -- quite a few members of the community came in and described sometimes serious injuries to themselves and others due to my lovely leaf piles. There was legal notice for the meeting: No one came in to say that the piles were in fact as soft and inoffensive as I think they are! Sigh! That's democracy! Commissioner Edelman made a motion to set a concrete date to get rid of LITS; in the end the compromise was to end it "eventually".

"The Council weighed that still relatively strong opinion for the Commission which they appointed against more moderate ones, including their own: Council member Frerichs said that people in his building were able to adjust to not doing LITS... on the other hand Council member Arnold said he liked me!

"Perhaps everything could have been run a bit better, but it's hard to control everything. My sense is that BTSSC voted a little more thoughtfully that sad night, when the public comment was in one room at the Senior Center before the entire meeting was moved to a meeting room to be away from the windows, as at the time it was considered possible that an active shooter was about.

"To be clear, I am only responding about LITS... not the other issues you mention."

Love, the Claw

Roberta L. Millstein

Dear Mx. Claw,

Thank you for contributing your perspective. It is good to hear more of the story of what happened on that very sad night. It helps me understand the decision a bit better. Still, I can't help but think that your story in fact illustrates how communication between Council and public could be better. I think it's always best to get people on board first rather than taking a "I know what's best" approach. Sometimes that means slowing things down. Yes, things are slow already. But slow is preferable to unnecessary angst and frustration, in my view.

Anyway, thank you for all the times you picked up leaves and branches in front of my house. You certainly did so with style. Props also to the workers who deploy you so ably.


Todd Edelman

In regards to "That it wasn’t [parcel tax for roads was not passed] seems like an indication that citizens do not fully trust this Council or are otherwise unhappy."

Seems. Do not fully trust. Otherwise unhappy.

I know that this is an opinion piece but you did include references for other things. My sense is that the Council and too many assumed that it would be a slam dunk, and so they were too chill about it. (I am not sure if it was proper for the Council to enlist the BTSCC with that effort - in any case they did not.) "Seems" and the rest are sort of ambiguous but also heavy handed... WAS there an actual credible survey about why this didn't pass?

Roberta L. Millstein

Todd, no survey was taken to my knowledge. I fully admit that this is speculation on my part. But even if it was lack of communication rather than lack of trust or unhappiness, my basic point remains that the current Council isn't engaging and communicating with citizens the way that it should be. If you're asking us for more money you need to make us understand why -- what the history is, why we don't have the money now. Every time I see a letter to the editor in the DE complaining about the roads I cringe. Notably, these letters never seem to reference Measure I. There was a missed opportunity there. Contrast, for example, how heavily involved the Council has been with touting development projects like Nishi. It's not like they don't know how to do it.

Ron O

I'm in complete agreement, regarding this article. (All of the issues raised.)

Robert Canning

Re. parking (this is written after the so-called compromise vote on 3/25) and the council being

I find the common sentiment that "the community" opposes paid parking in the southeast quadrant of downtown hard to swallow. What "community" are we talking about? Perhaps it is those who turn up at community chambers to voice their concerns? Or is it the 1500-2000 names on petitions submitted by the DDBA and the Chamber in opposition to downtown parking. I doubt it is the majority of Davisites or any sort of a representative sample of city residents. Obviously, this is my hunch and not a factual statement since no one has bothered to survey the community as a whole in any meaningful way about this topic.

The Parking Task Force released 19 recommendations in their final 2013 report - including on-street paid parking in the SE quadrant. All the recommendations were unanimously supported by the 11 members of the Task Force - including six downtown business owners. As presented by City staff on 3/10, some of the task force recommendations have been completed (recomendations No. 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, and 19). Some are in progress including increasing employee parking in Old East Davis (it's in negotiation with the neighborhood), collecting updated data on occupancy and turnover, investment in software to help with parking management, increasing the hours of enforcement and a couple more. A few are on hold or pending.

In the course of the Downtown Plan update process parking has been discussed a number of times. If I am not mistaken, on-street paid parking was brought up and no one made much of a fuss. (I was not at some of the lunchtime workshops so it may have been discussed there.)

In the last six months, the downtown merchants have made a concerted effort to defeat on-street paid parking in downtown Davis. Every time I go into Dave Ace I notice the little red signs at every register saying NO to paid parking. They have trumpeted that "the community" does not want parking meteres. But why should we believe them? They "feel" (I hate that word - what do they believe or think about parking? Such sloppy language!) their businesses will suffer but offer no other options for improving the situation than building a new parking garage, while the one on 4th street has plenty of parking most of the time.

The DDBA conducted a survey of its members in the last 18 months. It had some interesting results. For instance, the responses to Q16 indicate that 30% of respondents feel there is adequate parking supply. The responses about employee parking was quite odd. Of 71 respondents, 56 said they have need of X permits but only 31 of the 56 said they purchase them (Q20). Then on Q26 30 of 56 respondents reported that their employees do not move their vehicles when parked in time-limited spaces during working hours. Overall, the merchants who chose to answer the survey don't buy many X permits, think there is enough space, and seem to know that their employees are scofflaws by leaving their cars in time-limited spots when the time expires. Finally, Q18 gave a menu of options for improving parking in downtown and fully 75% of the respondents said that they supported that building a new parking structure was the way to do. The survey results were given to the council and made available to the public. (If anything, this survey proves that Survey Monkey shouldn't be left in the hands of amateurs.)

Now, the Chamber and the DDBA are not "the community." At the March 10 meeting the room was packed with many opponents of the paid parking proposal. Many of them were business owners. Several ordinary folks decried the loss of the "character" of downtown Davis. Mayor Lee mentioned that email was running 5:1 against meters - but of course we don't know who those emails were coming from or even how many. If it was 10,000 then that's significant, but we don't know.

I remain skeptical that "the community" as a whole really knows that much about the parking task force, it's proposals, and how parking management works. The concerted fear-mongering of the downtown business folks has pushed the council into putting meters in the garages and the stree lots. Although the staff proposal as originally presented could use tweaking (e.g. around the Community Church, which was the only opponent who showed up and gave some data to back up their assertions) generally it followed the unanimous recommendation of the City's own citizen task force.

So no, I don't believe the council is out of touch with the community when it comes to the parking proposal. To me, the downtown businesses and the Chamber of commerce are the ones who are out of touch with the reality of the data and are acting against the long-term success of downtown. I won't go so far as to call them running dog capitalists, but they seem to be acting in their own self-interest. I agree with Robb Davis that their businesses will suffer iin the future - but not because of parking meters - most likely because most folks continue to buy online more and more.

If the council really wanted to know what the community thinks on this issue, why don't they go in with the Chamber and DDBA and commission a reputable survey firm to do a real survey that has some validity.

Roberta L. Millstein

Robert, I certainly agree with you that the Council can and should have done better to determine community sentiment, although I am always frustrated when people dismiss those who go down and give public comment or who send emails. (For the record, I didn't give public comment, and only sent an email after the first proposal, i.e., in between the two recent meetings). Those are the ways we are given to communicate with Council and they should be respected.

As for the proposal itself, I don't think casting this as "paid parking" vs "not paid parking" is correct. I thought the Council's original proposal didn't make sense, and said so here:

And I think I was not the only one who was opposed to paid parking in that form, but who might have been open to a different proposal: say, one that didn't have meters at every space and which had truly flexible pricing, not imposing pricing at times when there is no demand. I don't think that that proposal was consistent with what the Task Force recommended.

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