No More Parking Garages!
Death of the Great American Parking Lot (and Garage)
We are in a pitched battle locally. Did you know parking spaces are in search of library books? Will meter attendants unite with public internet users inside one monstrous structure? Can sheltered automobiles really coexist alongside sheltered humans in a public space poised bombastically atop the former Farmer’s Market site? Victory? Or is a remodeled and revamped 1968, now odd-looking building, the way to live within our municipal financial constraints? The great library-garage debate that’s been raging in town for months (some say years) was in overdrive this week as the city council held a planned public study session to decide whether we continue down the fossil fuel path, or just say NO to any more $40k parking spaces. Will it be settled this week, or will the tin can of a “public works” project be kicked down Cedar Street, left on Church, and land all the way back onto city hall’s drought-tolerant landscaping? (Note: BrattonOnLine deadline is Monday at noon, so I will have more next week.)
E-Vehicle Flies in the Ointment
Parking bureaucrats froth at the mouth over monuments to the internal combustion engine (revenue$, revenue$, revenue$). Hell, they will even fully embrace electric cars if they could charge them to park! Funny thing was, since 2002 the city’s parking department could not fine electric vehicle owners who parked in city spaces because the council back then was trying to incentive e-vehicle use. That ended in 2016. I guess because Santa Cruz suffers from an e-vehicle glut? No, but it appears to be petty backlash by the city parking Czars who felt they were losing revenue. They lobbied hard to get the meter money back from the elitists who drive Nissan Leafs, Chevy Bolts, Kia Soules, and BMW i3s. These cars currently sell for between $21,000 and $35,000 after federal and state rebates. And please, don’t even get the parking apparatchiks started on those pricey Teslas.
Going Extinct: Parking Garages or 8-Track Tapes? Parking Garages or Crystal Sets?
“The bottom line: We’re going to need much less space to store cars. Some cities are gearing up to take advantage of the shift…Urban parking lots are dead or dying, and how we use the curb is changing,” said Rich Barone, vice president of transportation for the Regional Plan Association of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.” (Pew report, Dec. 12, 2017 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/12/12/why-downtown-parking-garages-may-be-headed-for-extinction)
Environmentalists, the scourge of public works departments everywhere, are leading the charge and visioning a different kind of library project. Library sí, they say, parking garage no! There is a definite not-too-green aspect of building and maintaining a behemoth parking structure for 650-plus cars. Once built this garage also further eliminates impervious surfaces, produces toxic run-off, and will displace numerous trees on the site. The future is about how to park less cars downtown, and more about pedestrian amenities, how to create multiple nexus points between downtown and the San Lorenzo River, and finally where to place more trees and benches. Can we implement Traffic Demand Management (TDM) strategies now and not after the proposed garage becomes reality? Maybe we can use the desal issue as a model. Remember, our community far exceeded all conservation measures recommended by city staff and we avoided building a desalination plant. Can we get enough people not driving a car to downtown and actually forgo this $35-$40 million cement mistake?
Here’s an idea. Yes, Santa Cruz deserves a nice library, a monument to intellectual curiosity, civic virtue, and community vision. What about this: Sell the existing library site ($3-5 million?), take the $23 million in library bond money, and the additional $5 million to relocate the Farmer’s Market that’s being contemplated (that’s about $33 million), and build a library fronted by a long-desired town plaza. The plaza could then be the permanent home for the Farmer’s Market, and at the same time we could preserve all 12 trees on the site of the current Lincoln and Cedar Street parking lot. In fact, why not have a contest? It could be very exciting. Have architects and builders submit plans. Tell’em they have $33 million to build it, and no more. Voila, no five-story garage, no monument to the internal combustion engine, and no large structure overwhelming the neighborhood, and the 12 mature trees would be preserved. This is such a wonderful time to be having this debate. Just sayin’! The report the city council received recently has a staff recommendation to relieve businesses of fees they currently contribute so that the city can provide downtown parking. But monthly fees to park in the various city-owned garages would nearly double in cost, going from $38 to $75. I support this increase, but only if the increased revenue goes toward paying for bus passes, Uber-Jump bike fees, and occasional Lyft rides for all downtown city workers. Also, downtown businesses have to make good on bus passes for their employees too if they are to be relieved of paying “parking deficiency fees.” (P.S. BTW, the real cost of providing a downtown parking space per month is more like $105 per month.)
The Dirty, Not-so-little Secret
It is envisioned by Santa Cruz parking czars (no czarinas involved) that much of the new condo building planned for downtown would rely on this “library-garage” five-story scheme at Lincoln and Cedar. The market-rate developers would be relieved of having to build “sufficient” parking and instead, they would send their tenants to put their late-model cars to rest in the city-built parking structure. So, will there be a developer building fee that will off-set the parking garage construction costs? One has not been proposed yet.
Speech-ifying ON the Housing B.S. Report
On the night of this past June 12th, real estate interests and developer-types of all kinds came forward to extoll the market-rate housing recommendations in a report from the city council’s Housing Blueprint Subcommittee. Obviously, the recommendations were heavily influenced by this lobbying class through our own Santa Cruz Planning Department. Who could disagree with paving the way for hundreds more market-rate homes downtown? Me, for instance. The vote to approve was 5-1 with Councilmember Sandy Brown absent. I was the lone no-vote and before I voted I addressed the audience and the city council:
Well, here I come as the unwelcome guest at the garden party.
“Doesn’t pencil out.” How often we’ve heard that line from developers. I for one believe all housing is not equal. The next city council will hopefully learn to say NO to developers who will not build inclusionary housing…because you know what? Market-rate housing does not currently “pencil out” for dishwashers, baristas, or even nurses. The next city council will hopefully learn how to say no to developers who want to pay in-lieu fees, or at least charge them a fee equal to the amount one of their units will be sold for. ($500k plus!) I take my hat off to this council for protecting housing by passing a rent freeze and just-cause eviction ordinance. But, I do not see either of those two accomplishments listed in this report in front of us tonight. I cannot support the removal of the owner-occupied requirements for ADUs. I cannot support the moving target of 10% or less inclusionary units proposed [in this report]. I cannot support a “Housing Academy” instead of an Affordable Housing Commission. The commission would at least be made up of residents [and not pedantic bureaucrats]. I cannot support a developer-heavy plan [that’s in front of us tonight] that will yield few affordable units for people who live in Santa Cruz right now. What I do support is a 25%-30% inclusionary [in every project]. I support getting up to speed and investing city resources in gaining affordable units. I support the creation of an affordable housing commission. I like looking at increasing the TOT (hotel tax) to build affordable housing. I support the idea of unbundling parking. I support the concepts here of placing housing near transit. I support involving the public more in housing decisions. Tonight, I am not so comfortable being this canary in the coal mine, but it seems to me if this plan goes forward y’all are throwing down a gauntlet and setting [up campaign issues) for the next election. So, I for one am looking forward to November. Thank you.
Bernie Quote of the Week
If you don’t love Bernie, you really must admire his principles though in not endorsing his son, Levi for a congressional house seat. He believes in his son, but rejects political nepotism. Bernie said, “I don’t believe in dynastic politics. He’s on his own… I’m sure he’s gonna do very well…” (June 7) https://cnn.it/2JnR7jh #CuomoPrimeTime What a dad!