My Turn: Parking no, economics yes
I was the only person on the Parking Committee and the Planning Commission in 2004 to advocate an alternative to paid parking downtown. My belief that there was a better solution to the downtown parking issues resulted from a review of the Wilbur Smith Associates study of the parking, from my experience managing retail parking and concern about the effect of paid parking on our local citizens.
Is there a parking problem in the historic downtown? According to the study, the turnover and duration rates were within the normal ranges. That shouts the conclusion there is no shortage of parking. However, there are other factors such as distribution of parking, the needs for better employee parking, better parking management and added improvements that do require major attention.
Also, we know the Downtown Merchants Association were struggling with the cost of parking operations. So it ain’t the parking, folks, it’s the money.
The merchants and property owners did not want to consider an assessment district to improve the parking because their “reality” was they could only afford an assessment district for landscaping, sidewalks and other streetscape improvements to upgrade downtown.
But which should have come first, parking improvements or the gentrification of portions of downtown?
Obviously, if parking was such a problem, it should have been the priority for an assessment district.
What’s wrong? Why should customers pay for parking? They don’t pay at Gateway, Ace Hardware, Crossroads, Outlet Center, etc. At those locations capital costs are reflected in the rent and tenants pay operating costs through common area fees or special charges. Shouldn’t the property owners and tenants downtown pay for their customers’ parking like the other retailers in town? Dumping the costs on the townspeople and visitors to avoid their financial responsibilities is wrong. It smacks of the kind of lobbying that corporations do in Washington.
With the current program, parking capital improvements will only be possible if revenues exceed operating costs. With the current number of empty spaces downtown, it will take “forever” to generate funds in excess of the operating costs for the needed improvements. (Note: Wilbur Smith Associates was very vague how quickly capital funds for improvements would be generated through paid parking.)
Forty-five percent of parking downtown is on private property. Unless property owners voluntarily give up rights (as one property owner has done), there will likely be havoc as unauthorized people park on private property to save a buck.
When the Planning Commission considered downtown parking in September 2004, commissioners expressed concern about the impact of paid parking on locals. Additionally, one member suggested that the commission’s “recommendations should take into account that the heart of Truckee is our Historic Downtown. It gives our town its flavor and suggests our devotion to the environment and preserving its character.”
Apparently, this concern did not receive sufficient consideration.
A few years ago, hundreds of us gathered downtown for our town portrait. It was the spirit of Truckee personified. Now we have a schism between the merchants and locals that is breaking many hearts, including downtown’s. This may be the worst impact of paid parking. The paid parking program has forgotten Truckee’s locals, who watch their pennies carefully, much less their dollars (can’t use them in the meters).
My thoughts are now slightly different from those previously suggested to the Parking Committee and the Planning Commission. First, the current town parking management should redefine its mission to manage the downtown parking in a manner that adds to the “Spirit of Truckee” (rather than giving everyone the “parking meter finger”) and focuses on significantly improving employee parking.
Second, set up an assessment district to finance improvement and operations of the parking. Improvements could be made as soon as a district is funded, rather than waiting indefinitely until revenues generated by paid parking provide capital funds.
Property owners with private parking who include their parking in the district should receive a significant credit toward their share of the costs of operating the district. And, if an assessment consultant concludes that some benefit accrues to the whole town, that proportion of costs should be paid by the Town of Truckee. (My guess is that it would be small.)
Finally, the town council should tell the downtown community to make a choice between financing parking and streetscape improvements if the property owners do not want to finance both. Let them set the priority. If streetscape improvements are more important to downtown than parking, the town council should end paid parking and leave the merchants and property owners to their own devices.
Paul Leyton is a former Truckee
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