COURSEY: The price of parking in downtown Santa Rosa
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 9:35 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 9:35 a.m.
You've got to admire the tenacity of Dave Madigan, who's still fighting the city of Santa Rosa's downtown parking policies from his new home in Soldotna, Alaska.
Yes, that was the former owner of Madigan's Stationery in last week's Letters to the Editor section, arguing – once again – that the city should just do away with parking meters downtown.
Madigan, whose family's store occupied the corner of Fifth Street and Mendocino Avenue for 50 years until 2004, has complained for years that parking fees and parking tickets are killing downtown business. And he's not alone. As my colleague Pete Golis pointed out in his column on the subject last week, everybody's an expert when it comes to parking, and a lot of folks look to successful downtowns such as Healdsburg and Sonoma and conclude that their lack of paid parking is the reason people like to gather in those small-city centers.
But, as is often the case, it's not that simple.
Despite what people like Madigan may think, parking is not a right; it's a commodity. The real estate on which you park your car during the day has value just like the real estate on which you lay your head at night.
This is particularly true in downtown Santa Rosa. Unlike downtown Healdsburg and downtown Sonoma, which cater primarily to visitors, Santa Rosa's core is the daytime home of thousands of office workers who spend all day at their jobs in city, county, state and federal government, banking and financial services, law offices, health services and, yes, newspapers. The great majority of those folks need a place to park all day long, and human nature says they are going to find one as cheap and as close to their destination as possible.
Without meters, that means the downtown's prime real estate is tied up for the day by 9 a.m. Visitors and shoppers – the people who parking-meter opponents say are driven away by meters and fines – have to look elsewhere for a place to park in order to spend money in downtown restaurants and shops.
Madigan and others say this can be remedied without parking meters by imposing and enforcing time limits on downtown parking. Make parking free, they say, but limit it to two hours. That will create turnover and free up spaces.
Been there and done that, says Bernie Schwartz, who has owned and operated California Luggage on Fourth Street since 1980. And it didn't work, because downtown's daily parkers went to great lengths to hold on to the cheapest, most convenient spaces they could find:
“Both employees and proprietors were intimately familiar with working that two hours, moving their cars and wiping chalk off their tires,” Schwartz said in an email. “It was two hours free in the parking garages back then, too, which meant a caravan of cars going around the block every two hours. Really.”
So the city installed meters, and diagonal parking along Fourth Street, over the objection of Madigan and others who said it would drive customers away. And while there certainly have been complaints over the years from people who find a ticket on their windshield after a meal or an appointment, Schwartz says the system has made prime parking more available and none of his customers has ever complained about having to pay for a parking place.
Until the rise of the kiosks.
The pay-station kiosks seemed like a good idea in 2008, offering parkers the option of paying with coin, bills or credit cards. But customers hate them, Schwartz said, and he and other downtown merchants have convinced the City Council to get rid of them in the city's core, replacing them with individual meters at parking spots along Third, Fourth and Fifth streets.
The decision has generated howling, of course, including about the waste and expense of replacing perfectly good kiosks. But this is only the beginning. The new meters will have the capability of charging more for parking at “prime times,” thus more accurately reflecting the value of parking real estate as congestion waxes and wanes downtown.
Wait until the “experts” get to weigh in on that.
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.
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