By Gabe Meline
Parking in downtown Santa Rosa has been contentious since former city manager Ken Blackman negotiated an eminent domain deal in the 1970s for the Santa Rosa Plaza and, with it, unlimited free parking for mall customers. Parking issues have only become more contentious in the last 10 years, with downtown first getting coin meters followed by the elimination of a grace period of free parking at garages; then new, vastly unpopular kiosks; and now, a rock-bottom city fund that's hungry for more parking revenue. To that end, the city has touted the ideas of Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and advocate for "supply-and-demand parking."
"I don't see why people have to pay market rents to live in the neighborhood," Shoup says, "but the cars live rent-free." His model is to charge the least possible parking rate that will at the same time ensure a 15 percent vacancy of spaces on any given block—make parking more elite, essentially, and free up the space for those who truly need it. Or can afford it. Meanwhile, customers will be able to find a spot, they won't be driving around burning fuel, and the city will get more revenue. But will they be driven away by the high cost of expensive parking?
At a Feb. 24 meeting, it was announced that attendees would be divided into tables, purposefully seating opposing factions together. That never happened, the meeting instead devolving into what one participant called a "bitch fest."
"Stop concentrating on the parking and concentrate on the business," a pawn shop owner urged, underscoring the balance between sales tax revenue and parking revenue. "Public perception is reality, and it needs to be improved," declared another merchant. "It's clear we're holding a lot of emotional tension here," said the moderator, calmly.
In the air are proposals to extend the metered hours in downtown Santa Rosa from 6pm to 8pm or even 9pm, and to implement tiered rates in the new kiosks that will increase at intervals throughout the day as parking spaces become scarcer. Meanwhile, the city has its eye on negotiations with CalTrans to implement kiosked parking beneath the freeway and throughout the Railroad Square area, with the same extended hours and rates.
Perhaps the most telling change in the last 10 years? The Parking Division used to be under Parking and Transit. Now it's under Economic Development.
The next downtown parking meeting is Wednesday, March 10, at the Central Library. 211 E St., Santa Rosa. 10:30am. 707.543.3325.
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