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What About the Parking?

What About the Parking?

Ever walked around downtown San Diego and come across a massive crater being dug in the ground?  Not the downtown surface parking craters on Streetsblog, but literal parking craters, several stories deep at a cost of millions of dollars – beneath nearly every new housing project downtown:

  

This recent Union Tribune article points out that downtown San Diego, with its policy of requiring parking for all new housing, is now an outlier among large cities – and asks if residents are ready to allow exceptions to this rule.  The answer from many downtown is “no”, of course:

Pat Stark, chairman of the Downtown Community Planning Council, said softening the requirements could also create a backlash from many of the 40,000 residents already living downtown.

“We’re very friendly toward density, but then there’s also great pushback on the impacts of that density, specifically when it comes to parking,”

Gary Smith, president of the Downtown San Diego Residents Group, said by phone on Friday that San Diego is not ready to abandon parking requirements downtown.

This isn’t the first time Gary Smith has implied that he speaks for all of downtown, and I’m not sure why he thinks he determines what San Diego is or isn’t ready for – but he’s definitely not concerned about housing affordability.  This Voice of San Diego article points out how the $60-90K cost of each underground parking space is simply passed on to tenants, making renting/ownership more unaffordable. 

And of course there’s going to be pushbacks and backlashes from established downtown residents – they’re acting out of self-interest.  But since catering to these folks is a major contributor to how we got into a housing crisis, why are they setting our parking policy? (Short answer: because older residents vote at a much higher rate in local elections.)  Perhaps simply looking at community planning group housing approval rates glosses over how harmful these groups have been toward affordable housing efforts. 

Fortunately the U-T article has some sensible comments in support of removing the minimums, and even Gary acknowledges, “In the long term, you will probably end up going that way because people living in a dense civic core like downtown tend to find they don’t need a car as much”.  But things get weird again when downtown’s population forecast of 100,000 is compared to other cities as a justification to continue building expensive parking:

Manhattan has 1.7 million residents and San Francisco has nearly 1 million.

Let’s compare the geographic sizes of these downtowns:

  • Manhattan (1.7M people) is 23 square miles
  • “Downtown” San Francisco (850K people) is 47 square miles
  • Downtown San Diego (100K forecast) is just 2.3 square miles

I’m not sure if this is just lazy reporting or a literal small-town mindset from Mr. Smith, but regardless, it isn’t a valid argument.  Plus, many downtowns were once the population size of San Diego, yet were allowed to grow without requiring subterranean parking spaces at $75K a pop.  But that was before car culture reduced us to making absurd arguments like these, or the “downtown has a relative lack of mass transit” whopper – when nearly every bus and trolley line in San Diego make their way there.

Meanwhile it’s encouraging to see the survival of the weekend night no-parking zone on 5th Avenue downtown to facilitate drop-offs, despite doom-and-gloom stories from local news outlets that receive millions annually in car commercial revenue.  Given the high number of ride share vehicles dropping off passengers throughout San Diego, why haven’t we converted more business district curb space from parking to drop-off zones?  Instead, drivers are stopping in red zones to drop off and pick up people, which reduces visibility at intersections, or worse, blocks buses.  

Over at San Diego State, it’s remarkable to see the College Area Community Planning group actually *supporting* a new student housing project, after years of exacerbating the area’s mini-dorm problem.  Yet “city staff” (translation: Mayor Faulconer) oppose the badly-needed affordable housing project because it doesn’t meet the city’s parking minimums.   Days later the Planning Commission refuted the Mayor’s out-of-touch position:

“We need to build more housing, period,” said Commissioner Susan Peerson. “We need to be creative and look at these hybrid solutions that don’t fit every checkbox in our code.”

As the first link above points out, how many City documents have to spell out that this is precisely the type of development needed until City policies actually reflect those goals?  Or, how much worse does our housing crisis have to get before our electeds exhibit common-sense leadership?

While it may make sense to reconsider our parking vs housing balance, it won’t change the minds of many who think abundant parking is simply a basic right.  Channeling fellow Union Tribune sportswriter Nick Canepa, Kirk Kenney ranted about his daughter being unable to find parking on the second day of fall semester at SDSU last week:

Kenney goes on to say “When you charge a student $271 per semester for a (overnight-included) parking permit there’s a reasonable expectation of being able to find a parking spot.” Meanwhile these tweets from SDSU Parking Services indicate that there actually was plenty of student parking available on the east side of campus that day – even during this peak-demand first week:

 

In those 39 years since Mr. Kenney parked and biked (God forbid) to SDSU, there’s been a $506M extension of the Green Line to SDSU, and the addition $44M Mid-City Rapid bus to SDSU.  As a result, parking demand at SDSU has been largely flat.  To many, that would be “addressing the issue”, but not to the parking-entitled.  Unfortunately, these folks often have a loud voice in our planning future.

When it comes to public curb space, what if we ignored them and just priced and used it economically, given all the alternatives to private car storage on public streets?  Convert some to safe bike/scooter infrastructure, convert some more for express bus lanes, and price the rest based on demand.  That’s the best way to use this public space now, and even more so in the future given current trends.

A friend said to me recently, “Little Italy is so cool but you know what sucks about it?  There’s nowhere to park.”  He said this despite nearly every inch of curb space there being devoted to private parking (save for some red curbs), and a new $640M parking garage.  (Since it costs $10 to park in the garage, that’s not even considered.)  The reason there’s “nowhere (free) to park” is because Little Italy is extraordinarily popular, not because we haven’t allocated an enormous amount of public space to it.  This reminded me that we’re never gong to satisfy folks whose spectrum of transportation options is limited to their own steering wheel.  Let’s stop trying to appease them, and start considering some smart parking policies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Italy Food Hall

Little Italy Food Hall

The Piazza della Famiglia project in Little Italy opens next month, and by summer it will take a cue from Liberty Station’s hugely successful Public Market concept by including a food hall. The hall will include two Public Market vendors, Wicked Maine Lobster and Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop. A food hall makes sense given the large number of sit-down restaurants already in Little Italy, and you’ll be able to bring your meal into the open-air public piazza:

While public squares are commonplace throughout European cities, this is the first of its kind for San Diego, where we’ve long dedicated most of our public space to moving and storing vehicles. Given the piazza’s likely success (Little Italy is doing pretty well), could this spur other urban communities in San Diego to rethink how they allocate space in their commercial districts?

Here in Kensington, where the Heart of Kensington residential group killed a public space in front of the Kensington Commons project, we’ll just settle for a new restaurant in the long-vacant Kensington Vine space.  Tanuki Japanese will be a “coffee bar by day and a sake bar and eatery by night”, according to Eater. This is just around the corner from our block. With the opening of Kensington Brewing and Pappalecco in the past year, it’s great to have more walk-to options in the neighborhood.

Tickets are nearly sold out for next Saturday’s Modern Times Carnival of Caffeination on Broadway Pier. Proceeds go to BikeSD. There’s a pretty amazing lineup of brewers, roasters and food trucks:

Earlier that day I’m hoping to join the celebration for the long-awaited opening of the Centerline bus rapid transit lanes and stations at Teralta Park over SR-15 in Mid-City:

Speaking of freeways, if Caltrans has an annual funding/maintenance gap of $6 billion, why are they spending $8 billion on an environmentally-damaging, sprawl-inducing freeway in the Mojave Desert?

BikeSD recently endorsed Omar Passons for County Board of Supervisors (thanks to all the candidates who responded) because we know he’ll stand up for the rights of bicyclists even when it’s politically difficult to do so. I joined Omar, urban planner Howard Blackson and a group of bicyclists recently for a ride around downtown where we experienced the challenge of riding in a busy area still bereft of safe bike infrastructure. One highlight was hearing architect Mike Stepner’s efforts in creating the notion of the “Gaslamp Quarter“:

Another reason I support Omar is his support for more housing… which means I can segue into yet another batch of housing bullet points:

  • Opposing housing for your kids to preserve your free street parking isn’t “progressive”, no matter what OB Rag says.  I’m excited about the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County group because it could make many local Democrats consider where they stand on the housing crisis.  The group has its launch party this Friday.
  • David Alvarez, who will be at the launch party, has several suggestions for the San Diego City Council on how to build more housing, including allowing conversion of vacant ground floor commercial space to housing, and “waiving parking requirement for small apartments, condos, live/work units and studios near transit”.
  • Our City San Diego covers San Diego’s growing affordable housing coalition and how reducing parking requirements gives developers more land on which to build.
  • Todd Gloria introduced a state assembly bill to encourage construction of affordable, smaller units close to transit that would reduce parking requirements.
  • Nearly every city in the state failed to reach state-mandated housing goals and will now be required to streamline projects that include affordable housing.
  • Inner suburbs that declare themselves “built out” and oppose housing (i.e., Bay Park) are a major cause of housing crises in cities across the U.S.

    The reality is that most of the housing stock and most of the land area of America’s metros is made up of relatively low-density suburban homes. And a great deal of it is essentially choked off from any future growth, locked in by outmoded and exclusionary land-use regulations. The end result is that most growth today takes place through sprawl.

  • A public workshop on the Riverwalk project in Mission Valley detailed how the 4300-unit project’s new trolley station will be the center of the development’s retail area.  Constructive input from neighbors included “we don’t want your residents parking on our streets” and declaring that Mission Valley would turn into a Mumbai slum.