Yesterday, I wrote an article wondering whether the City Council would listen to citizen’s objections to the downtown parking proposal, drawing attention to a pattern of problematic communication between Davisites and Council. Last night, they unanimously approved what is being billed as a “compromise” between the proposal and what Davisites wanted (which was, for the most part, no change to what we have currently).
How did the Council do?
This being winter grading season at the University, I’ve got grades on my mind. I give the Council a ‘C+’ for process and a ‘C’ for outcome.
Process first. The Council rightly backed off from the original idea to hold the meeting on a Friday afternoon, but then persisted in holding it during the middle of spring break for K-12 and UC Davis. It’s hard to say that you’re engaging the community when you hold a meeting when much of the community is out of town. (The meeting also conflicted with the Natural Resources Commission meeting, admittedly affecting far fewer people but it did preclude attending all of both meetings).
The Council decided to take more public comment, which it did not have to do considering that this meeting was officially a continuation of the previous one. This was the right move.
After public comment, which again featured widespread opposition to paid parking, Mayor Lee began the Council’s discussion with an alternate proposal to the one that staff had provided. On his proposal, there would be: no paid on-street parking (that is, it would remain free), improvements to the X permit system and additional X permit spaces, increased enforcement of current time limits and enforcement extended to 7 PM, no enforcement on Sundays, and paid parking at the “Kinkos lot,” among other suggestions. Throughout the rest of the night, various other suggestions were added, most notably to add paid parking at the Amtrak station lot and the “south G Street lot” (across from Woodstock’s Pizza).
Was this good process?
Well, Councilmembers clearly heard opposition to paid on-street parking loud and clear and responded accordingly by taking that off the table. That is to their credit.
However, what they ended up doing was crafting a rather large and complex set of recommendations. How does the community feel about this alternative proposal? Is it likely to achieve the same goals that the original proposal was aimed at addressing, namely reducing circling and frustration at being unable to find a parking space? No doubt we will find out the answers to those questions in the coming days. But they voted in the absence of that information – in the absence of exactly the sort of data and analysis that one would need to come to an informed vote.
What could they have done instead? Well, at the close of the previous meeting, having seen the handwriting on the wall, they could have asked staff for alternative proposals that could have been examined at last night’s meeting (or, better yet, a meeting not during spring break). Those alternative proposals could have included one without paid on-street parking yet with additional paid parking in several lots. Then we could have had community discussion about and professional analysis of that option.
Obviously, though, it was too late to do that last night. But there was still another alternative, urged by Colin Walsh in public comment: don’t craft a new plan on the dais. Don’t cobble something together. Send this back to staff; send this back to the public. Yet they failed to heed Walsh’s wise words. Cobbling together a host of recommendations on the fly (A paraphrase: “Should we add the south G Street lot? What do you think? Yes? Ok then. What about the Amtrak lot? etc” ) is not good process.
What about the outcome? Well, as I suggested above, time will tell. The main planks of the proposal are no metered street parking but paid parking at the four lots mentioned above (E Street Plaza, Amtrak lot, “Kinko’s lot”, south G Street lot). I’ll say that this does not make a whole lot of sense to me. Davisites prefer to park on street; thus the opposition to paid on-street parking (in addition to opposition to the meters themselves).
So essentially what the Council’s decision does is to make even less attractive the spaces that were already less attractive. It’s unclear to me how that will help free up parking spaces on the street. Instead, it seems likely that this will increase competition for the on-street parking, not reduce it.
That the Council’s solution – the outcome of its on the fly decision-making process – is not well-grounded was apparent from the comments made by two Councilmembers. In defending the inclusion of the south G Street lot among the paid lots, Councilmember Carson said, “I think, looking at the map of downtown, it balances out creating these places where folks could be able to park, while having to pay, but no longer having to worry about the clock.” To which Councilmember Partida responded, “Yes, I think it’s important because we create an area where there is parking turnover, and that area is a pretty impacted area, so there has to be a tool for turning parking spaces over.”
So, somehow, making patrons pay for parking both allows for longer parking and increases turnover, and, I guess we’re supposed to imagine, does these contradictory things in exactly the right amounts to get exactly the result we want?
Maybe I’m a hard grader; no doubt my students would confirm this. But the University tells me that ‘B’ means good. And neither process nor outcome of last night’s meeting seem ‘good’ to me.