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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SayNo! Quality of Life Survey

SayNo! Quality of Life Survey

Andrew Bowen from KPBS posted a link on twitter recently to the SoNo Neighborhood Alliance Quality of Life Survey that closes on 1/31 and will be presented to city officials.  Several people who responded noted the leading nature of the questions in the survey – here are a few of the tweets:

The questions are indeed a bit biased.  But that’s not surprising, considering the group opposes new housing, bike lanes and businesses that don’t meet their criteria – despite promising to “to work together” with all residents.  So I thought it would be fun to take some of the survey questions and describe SoNo’s (SayNo’s) likely underlying meaning.  Enjoy!


Please indicate the extent that the following issues cause problems in your South Park North Park (SoNo) neighborhood 
(Not a Problem/Somewhat of a Problem/A Very Big Problem/Not Sure):

1a. Lack of City adherence to Code Compliance and Zoning for residential and commercial properties (No Airbnb in our neighborhood!)

1b. Lack of bike lanes on roadways (Remember when we called safe bike lanes ‘social engineering’? [video])

1c. Increased Housing density (i.e., “Densification”) (We got ours… our children will just have to live somewhere else.)

1d. Preservation of Historic Character (If calling something historic can prevent new housing, then it’s historic.)

1e. Lack of efficient public transportation (We’d never actually ride public transit, but we sure will use it as an excuse to prevent development.)

1f. Lack of affordable housing/rental units (See (1c), (1d), and (1e).  Also, not building any housing somehow creates more affordable housing.)

1g. Non-permitted Marijuana Businesses (75% of our neighborhood voted to legalize marijuana, but residents should drive to an industrial park in Kearny Mesa to buy it.)

1h. Lack of parking on streets (My garage is for storage, not for parking my car – the City should pay for that.  And this is *way* more important than (1f).)

1j. Too many places that serve alcohol (bars, restaurants, night clubs) (North Park was better when we had to drive to Hillcrest because there was nowhere to eat or drink.)

1k. Too few publicly accessible “Green Spaces” (i.e., Parks, Community Gardens) (Even though our neighborhoods are literally right next to the largest urban cultural park in the country.)

1l. Too much vehicle traffic (SD County has 3 million residents, and we live 5 minutes from downtown, but there should be no rush hour congestion… just like every other thriving city.)

1m. Too little representation from Residents, when decisions are made that affect your neighborhood (Only retired ‘R’esidents who can make 6PM Community Planning meetings will decide our neighborhoods’ future.)


Please indicate whether or not you support the following 
(Support/Do Not Support/Don’t Know):

2a. Dispersing affordable housing throughout the city of San Diego (Keeping the poors out of North Park is ‘progressive’.)

2c. A law to hold irresponsible liquor store, bar and restaurant owners accountable for alcohol-related crimes linked to their business practices. (We got a little excited there)

2d. Increasing bicycle lane access on roadways (Roads are for cars!)

2e. More enforcement of zoning restrictions and code compliance for residential and commercial properties (Seriously – did you not get what we were saying in (1a)?)

2f. Densification (Increased Housing Density) (Density belongs downtown!)

2g. Preserving green space (Parks, Community Gardens) (We can’t name a park or community garden that was removed, but we’re really throwing everything against the wall here.)

2h. Stricter penalties for owners/operators of unpermitted marijuana businesses (You will drive far for your disgusting habit hippies – and you will like it.)

2i. A law that requires a residential permit to park in residential areas (Residential parking permits will remain just $14/year, far below the true cost, and continue to be subsidized by other City taxpayers.)

2j. Increased access to public transportation (We demand a trolley that we can later oppose because of construction impacts.)

2k. Building infrastructure before density (i.e., facilities, mass transit alternatives, green space) (We are against the very thing – density – required for the ‘mass’ part of ‘mass transit alternatives’.)

2l. An ordinance that requires the preservation of Historic Structures (A parking lot is a historic structure, right?  Yes, it is. [link])

2m. An ordinance that requires equal representation (Parity) between Residents/Community Members and Businesses on Neighborhood Planning Committees and Councils (But we strongly oppose an ordinance that requires equal representation for young residents and renters. See (1m).)