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Failings of the Downtown Paid Parking Proposal

E-St-Graph-2By Dan Urazandi

The history of paid parking in Davis has unfolded outside my store window. From here, the center of downtown and the maelstrom of the debate on paid parking, I can see the cause of parking problems and effect of supposed solutions. I can see close to 40 spaces that have been removed over the years—the E st plaza cost 25, three more for the walkway through the lot, three given away to zipcar and uber, two to the crosswalk, at least two to bulb outs, some to bicycle parking in the street, two to the bus stops. This is just on one block. Throughout downtown nearly 100 spaces have been whittled away over the last 20+ years. I use hand count estimates since the city refuses to release hard numbers that would prove they caused the parking shortage. All these losses entailed removing a practical necessity, parking spaces that were being used many times every day, for aesthetic gains that are used far less often by far less people or serve no purpose at all. Now the city wants to tax every space because each is a valuable commodity, but they placed no value on them before wanting to monetize them.

This is the sort of firsthand evidence the Council needs to hear and heed. There are solid reasons why 90% of downtown businesses, customers and employees are opposed to the city's paid parking plan. The 70 businesses that entreated council to stop implementation represent generations of knowledge of how best to serve downtown Davis. The Chamber of Commerce, the vast majority of DDBA members and are all against the plan. Business is against metered parking because it deters people from coming and staying downtown, which is bad for business.

Paid consultants along with proponents on city staff prepared and presented the paid parking plan to council. It pretends to be factual but is a one-sided sales pitch that assumes positives and minimizes or ignores negatives. And if the consultants are wrong, they pay no price. Downtown pays it all. If downtown is going to be affected most, they should have the most say.

But the process so far has relegated downtown to voicing objections during public comment. There has been no debate in chamber because one position is sidelined. So we have taken the issue into the public sphere in hopes that council will listen to the vast majority of the townspeople who are also 80-90% opposed and that council will press staff for full and complete answers and not rubber stamp before getting them.

We are certain the plan cannot withstand real scrutiny. Here are just some of its failings:

Since no new space is being added, for the plan to meet its promise of providing space for people willing to pay other people have to be driven off. But who will be driven off? Employees? Low income drivers? Customers? The plan has no projections for this and consultants were woefully unprepared to answer when Brett Lee asked. They also had no answer to how many cars adjacent untaxed areas would be expected to absorb.

The plan claims its price of 50 cents to $1 an hour is the lowest price that achieves availability targets of 80-85% occupancy. THIS IS MATHEMATICALLY FALSE. The lowest price that achieves 80-85% occupancy at all non-peak times when occupancy is below that level naturally is ZERO. If the only purpose is to achieve 80-85% no intervention is needed the majority of the time. Yet the proposal collects money from 10am to 10pm everyday including Sunday. The city seems intent on getting the most money out of a plan that's supposedly not about the money.

This is the worst kind of tax—regressive and paying mostly for its own implementation and enforcement. What small gains there may be are supposed to be earmarked for downtown improvements, but the city defines meters as an improvement, so the money would go for more meters and more ticketing. Downtown would gladly refuse this largesse if it could.

Isn't turnover as important as occupancy? Extending the time limit from 2 to 5 hours goes against turnover. It makes it cheaper to park downtown than in the UCD lots while attending class.

Another unchallenged assumption is that making it harder to drive downtown via paid parking will encourage people to bike and take public transport. It is more likely that drivers will drive to Target or Woodland or get what they used to buy downtown online, all of which adds up to more driving.

The task force recommendations are upside down. The DPTF returned with 18 recommendations to improve parking downtown. The city then chose how to prioritize them—it put paid parking, the most expensive, hated and potentially damaging suggestion at #1 and put increase parking supply and improve public transportation at the bottom of the list with no action at all.

How many more parking tickets are expected? Does the revenue expectation presented include this money stream? Can we avoid Sacramento's massive smart meter ticketing error rate? What is the psychological deterrent of ticket fear if you can be ticketed from the minute you park 10am to 10pm 7 days a week? What does that mean to the culture and environment downtown? Should the police department focus its energy on more tax collection via ticketing? Have they considered how change and new technology are exclusionary to the elderly? Why are unrelated improvements being tied to paid parking instead of implemented on their own?

The staff report and the consultants plan, despite their length, don't just fail to answer these questions, they never ask them. Council is being presented with a one-sided argument masquerading as fact. Proponents call the plan “science” because it cites an expert and cities like San Francisco where paid parking was deemed necessary. But how many experts say the opposite? How many cities like Sonoma and Petaluma have healthy downtowns without paid parking? If you already have a purpose you can then pick your experts and examples to suit that purpose. That's not science, it's political manipulation.

Science follows observation and experiment, which bring me back to my shop's view of the E st lot. This lot is the only real example of how paid parking works or fails in Davis, not some other town or theoretical model, and should be studied fully and accurately. Its lesson has been perverted by the consultants who present a glaring contradiction: the lot is currently at $1 per hour AND near 100% occupancy during peak hours. Yet their claim is that paid parking achieves 80-85% occupancy during peak, which is the only time there is a parking shortage. So paid parking does NOTHING to help occupancy at peak times. Before anyone says the lot's 100% occupancy while paid also refutes opponents' claims that paid parking drives customers away, refer to our featured image. It shows first that paid parking met huge resistance when implemented and that it took years for the lot to get back to being full at peak hours. Downtown businesses cannot survive such an exodus made full scale. Secondly, it is only at peak hours today that occupancy is high with or without paid parking. The paid lot is still underused compared to pre-meter at non-peak times. So the lot proves that paid parking does not work at controlling parking when it is needed AND it proves that paid parking drives people away at other times and upon implementation.

Here is a situation where logic, prudence, democracy, business, economics, math and science are on one side. City staff and consultants are on the other. Which side will council be on?


(This is a personalized version of a letter submitted to council by The original can be found at


Nancy Price

This LTE was submitted on March 21 to the Davis Enterprise for publication.

We’ve heard many arguments pro and con for the City’s metered parking proposal. It seems to me that, no matter what other cities have done or may be enacting or contemplating, this is, in fact, a very old-fashioned solution.

Most importantly, the City Council just passed a “Declaration of a Climate Emergency” that is to move the City toward “net municipal and community carbon neutrality in the short term”; educate “residents and City staff on the urgency of climate responses, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, etc.”, and “incorporate consideration of greenhouse gas reduction impacts/effects for all significant proposed policies, programs or actions approved by the City Council.”

So here’s a solution to objections to the metered parking proposal. Right now our city public transit is based on Unitrans for getting people to and from UCD. Where are our downtown options?

For the cost of metered parking, why not create an electric-powered mini-van transit system to serve Davis and the downtown to run on a good schedule and with stops protected from sun and rain. This could complement the Unitrans system whose buses, in any case, are inappropriate for the downtown. What’s more, this would free up parking spaces for those non-resident visitors to downtown. Additionally, such a mini-van system could eventually expand to serve Winters, Woodland and the county.

I, for one, would much rather pay for a mini-van rider’s pass with gas and parking savings, pleased at reducing my carbon footprint, and smiling at my seatmate across the aisle. And, let’s face it, with van transport, I could spend my dollars on that extra glass of wine or beer and contribute more to the local economy.

Please, let’s get more creative and merge parking solutions with climate solutions.



Well-written article. I hadn't even thought about the parking spaces that were removed. Also like the quote regarding "picking experts" (and resulting focus), and presenting the results as "science".

The paid parking proposal appears to be a precursor to the "residentialization" of downtown that some are pushing for - resulting in additional compromise of existing commercial space and resulting impact on parking and traffic.

New residents and their visitors are going to park somewhere, which will create additional challenges (that are simultaneously exacerbated by the effort to reduce parking requirements for new developments).

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks for your comments, Nancy and Ron. Both seem worth spelling out in a bit more detail, maybe as standalone articles.

Pam Gunnell

Incredibly well written and powerful argument against paid parking in downtown. Thank you Dan.

Nancy Price

I really want to thank Mr. Uranzandi for his well written, thoughtful article, based on a number of facts that I am hearing for the first time.

It time the City Council listened to the people for a change and especially those business people who have everything to loose. Furthermore, it seems to me that the metered parking will pit Davis residents against visitors more and more as the City's economic development plan is to make the city city a "food-centered" attraction not just for those in the country , but region and I-80 travelers, still wedded to cars.

Robert Canning

I'm coming to this a bit late. I have a hard time with Mr. Urazandi's arguments - particularly his reasoning about the graph he presents. My problems with it are 1) it is ten-year-old data, and 2) his conclusions don't seem to fit the narrative of the chart - in my opinion.

1) Where is more recent data about parking occupancy of the E Street lot? The parking task force recommended quarterly parking occupancy data collection. I couldn't find the data on the City's website but it should be available. (In all fairness, "bandwidth" issues have prevented data collections since 2016 according to the City's parking web page.)

2) Mr. Urazandi asserts that the figure "shows first that paid parking met huge resistance when implemented and that it took years for the lot to get back to being full at peak hours." It doesn't show anything of the sort. It shows that in the first six months (summer '08 to winter '09) parking occupancy of the E St. lot fell in all time slots on all days surveyed. It fell to low levels in the early AM, rises to lunchtime, ebbs in the afternoon and then moves up again as the evening arrives. Now, this data only shows a short period of time (six months?) and doesn't really show more recent occupancy data. So how can he make such assertions?

This kind of counterfactual reasoning is very troubling. The whole parking debate, in part, has revolved around who gets to determine what the facts are. The city's merchants claim that they know better than the city (i.e. staff and consultants) because they see parking first-hand and can tell us better than those who claim to go out and collect the data on parking occupancy. Personal ( and anecdotal) observation is good for some things, but others. Do they dispute the data on parking occupancy that was collected? If so, tell us why and how they would correct it. Do they dispute that maintaining parking occupancy at 80-85% cuts down on congestion downtown and promotes more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians?

Now, I agree with Mr. Urazandi that there remain unanswered questions about parking downtown. But the opponents of paid on-street parking in the SE quadrant want, IMO, to throw out the baby with the bathwater. They simply vilify the messenger (those "nasty" consultants) without offering any objective data to back their arguments. The use of misleading charts and old data (and we should expect to be able to see newer data from the city) and then making assertions that are not, again IMO, supported by the "data" they present does not reflect well on them as thought leaders for our community.

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