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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.







complete contradiction streets

complete contradiction streets

We stopped by the BLVD Food Market on El Cajon Blvd Friday night, where several food vendors and a live band were set up in the parking lot of the Heart and Trotter strip mall at Utah.  This isn’t your typical strip mall – on this night, several of the businesses were open late, including a mattress store with art for sale.  One of the highlights among the booths was Jordan Hannibal’s 5150 Nut Butter (I’m now hooked on their cookies and cream flavor).  Unfortunately it looks like Heart and Trotter still has a ways to go before opening their space.  And since their booth already was out of food two hours into the event, we walked up 30th to Chris’ Ono Grinds, where we enjoyed their tasty Kahlua pork and barbeque chicken dishes.  They have Fall Brewing on tap so we headed up the street to that new brewery next and were surprised to see the place was nearly full:


Who knew there was still demand for even more breweries in San Diego?  It was the same story down 30th where the new Rip Current brewing (and its food joint in the back, Sublime) was also packed.  In fact, nearly every business along this northern stretch of 30th was busy – Streetcar, Ritual, Nomad Donuts, Toronado.  Compared to a few years ago, North Park is definitely stretching out.

– Also in North Park, the building formerly housing Undisputed Gym has been sold at 3038 University.  Given its size, it could be an ideal spot for an organic market or similar, but some have brought up the lack of parking at the site.  Yet when we travel to other large cities, plenty of people shop at markets without the need for parking out front – perhaps they just shop more often.  I know that’s a foreign concept to most of San Diego right now, but does that mean it can never change, even as North Park continues to become more city-like?

– In South Park, the anti-TargetExpress group, Care About South Park, have finally revealed themselves (they demand “transparency” from Target yet hadn’t previously identified their members), and one of the group’s spokespersons is Mark Arabo.  While CASP purports to be a community group, Arabo is the head of the Neighborhood Market Association, which understandably does not want a Target to compete with.  Yet CASP purports to speak for the community, not grocers.  Arabo is also known for leading the fight against the plastic bag ban, despite 20 million tons of plastic going into our oceans every year.

CASP’s other spokesperson, Sabrina DiMinico, is critical of corporations despite being an employee at Petco.  Ms. DiMinico provided this gem to Uptown News:

“I shop at Target,” DiMinico said. “But we don’t want a Target in South Park.”

While DiMinico criticizes the traffic that a tiny Target would bring to South Park, she has no problem contributing to the congestion and pollution in other, lesser neighborhoods that host giant Targets.  Wouldn’t the residents of Mission Valley prefer that South Park residents shop at their own Target?  In fact, a TargetExpress in South Park that uses the existing Gala Foods building (I’d be opposed to a giant Target with a huge parking lot) will enable locals to walk, bike, take the bus, or take a shorter car trip to get household items unavailable elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Any successful store is going to increase traffic in South Park compared to the failing Gala Foods.  Instead, DiMinico would rather produce more greenhouse gases and road wear by forcing her neighbors to drive to Mission Valley.

– Speaking of GHG’s, a recent headline in the Reader about proposed development near transit in Grantville caught my attention:

Plan for Grantville population boom – Count on more noise, traffic, greenhouse gas emissions

The article is about the environmental impact report for the planned 8725 dwelling units over the next several decades in Grantville.  Given the huge need for housing in San Diego, it makes sense to put it near the trolley where some vehicle trips will be replaced by trolley rides.  Since those units are going to get built somewhere in our region regardless, wouldn’t this project produce less greenhouse gas emissions than pushing that growth to say, Murrieta and its resulting 60-mile commutes?  Pushing growth to the exurbs is exactly what’s been happening as NIMBY publications like the Reader promote no-growth policies.  Voice of San Diego also has a good writeup on the planned development in Grantville, where traffic and parking concerns are once again more important to many than our city’s housing affordability crisis.

– Community planning groups draw up the community plans that guide how we’ll live in and get around our neighborhoods, and the plans are currently being updated for the next few decades.  One example is the College Area Planning Group, whose existing community plan calls for widening College Ave from four to six auto lanes.  CAPG is fighting a proposed bike lane on College Avenue (more on that below) because they feel it will prevent the above widening, despite there being no funding for the hundreds of millions of dollars in demolition and reconstruction costs that would be required for the SDSU campus as a result.

Having attended several community planning group meetings, our neighborhoods’ futures are largely being determined by established residents with older mindsets, primarily concerned with keeping any new housing out of their community.  Meanwhile the region’s housing shortage, affordability crisis and hourglass economy worsens.  These residents largely oppose any infrastructure devoted to alternative modes of transit, despite younger Americans increasingly using these modes, their own future need for them, or the city’s Climate Action Plan that increases bike and public transit mode share.

If you oppose this cars-first planning approach for our city, and instead think we should plan for the needs of all residents, Circulate San Diego is hosting a panel discussion on how to join a Community Planning Group on January 28th at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

– Circulate SD also put on a fun event with the help of RideScout in Pacific Beach recently at the Java Earth Cafe, A Night of Short Stories: From Point A to Point PB.  With the trolley coming to near Pacific Beach, the event was meant to highlight the project and get people thinking about their experiences on public transit.  Five speakers told riveting and/or funny transit tales, and we especially enjoyed the story of a hung-over American tourist vomiting his way through Paris.

– I met with Robert Schultz, Vice President of Real Estate at SDSU recently regarding the proposed College Ave bike lanes that are part of the South Campus Plaza mixed-use project there:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.13.53 PM


The project will house 600 students and include ground floor retail.  Bike lanes that were added to the project at the request of the City of San Diego to mitigate the impacts of the new development by employing a Complete Streets approach (the project also widens sidewalks for the significant pedestrian traffic there).  I was surprised to hear that the city may kill the same lanes they suggested, because they have performed an auto level of service analysis that shows increased congestion.  Bob explained that while there have been suggested changes to using LOS at the state level, it’s still fully in charge here in San Diego (this was also confirmed at a later meeting I had to UCSD).  Further, a traffic engineer with the city asked SDSU to perform a 95th percentile traffic queue length study.  The city’s Climate Action Plan, which seeks to increase bike mode share to 18% in communities like the SDSU area, was never brought up.

It sounds like different people within the city have different missions, and the result is that Complete Streets policies are nearly impossible to implement.  (An aside: an email was forward to me from a Portland State faculty member who was looking for examples of mid-rise developments near San Diego college campuses that connect the campus to the community.  Amazingly, there don’t appear to by any near our three major universities).  I understand that state policies take a while to filter down to municipalities, but it would be beneficial to have a more unified approach from the City instead of the contradictions that prevent Complete Streets.

While the College Ave bike lanes face challenges from within the city (and offer a fascinating case study on how hard it is to implement Complete Streets in San Diego), let’s not forget the vehement opposition from local residents, who may seek legal action to prevent them.  Their vision of a six-lane College Ave, which is in stark contrast to the alternative transit modes being used by younger San Diegans (the trolley reduced annual parking permits by 6000 at SDSU, and they’re trending downward yearly),  means that bike lanes and widened sidewalks simply aren’t an option for College Ave, ever.  And this is in a neighborhood that lacks any real safe bike facilities at all for a large student population.  If you support bike lanes on College, please email council member Marti Emerald at [email protected]

Residents also oppose the size of the student housing building, yet they also complain about neighborhood houses being turned into mini-dorms as a result of insufficient student housing on campus.  Insufficient parking is another sore spot, yet College area residents benefit from the city’s cheap residential parking permit program ($13/year; no significant increase in decades) that city taxpayers subsidize to the tune of a few hundred thousand dollars every year.

– I also met with Robert Clossin, Director of Physical and Community Planning at UCSD recently.  UCSD and the UC system have a “robust” sustainability policy in place, so I was confused when UCSD supported the proposed I-5 widening that will increase greenhouse gas emissions.  This widening is part of the SANDAG 2050 transportation plan that has been thrown out in court twice now, for exceeding state greenhouse gas goals.  So Robert and Catherine Presmyk in the same office met with me to clear things up.

Here are the transit projects coming to UCSD:


Robert explained that UCSD only supports the direct access ramp from the new carpool lanes onto campus, and cited the buses they will bring onto campus.  Unfortunately this distinction was not made in any of the article I read indicating UCSD’s support for the freeway expansion.  Also, I’m unable to find any mention of planned bus routes for the new lanes.  Assuming the lanes will be like those on I-15 where solo drivers can pay to use them, the lanes will simply enable faster access to campus for wealthy North County residents, while not providing a robust public transit alternative to taking the Coaster and waiting for a shuttle to campus.

Speaking of the Sorrento Valley Coaster station, one benefit of the Genesee Avenue widening project shown above is that it will include a new bike path to the Coaster station from campus.  On the negative side, despite the Genesee bridge being expanded, there was only room for a painted bike lane, not a buffered or protected one.  This is also the case for the new Gilman bridge over campus.

One bright spot are the trolley stations coming to campus; the west campus station will include bike lockers, a public gathering space, some potential retail, and a new walkway connecting to the Price Center.  Another positive is the plan to replace some of the Mesa housing at the southeast corner of campus with new multi-story buildings, including micro-units for graduate students.  This would also have the potential to connect with the businesses across Regents Road there.

Overall however, UCSD remains largely isolated from its surroundings, especially the businesses and residences on the south side of La Jolla Village Drive.  While there is a pedestrian bridge, LJVD is practically freeway-like and dangerous by design to pedestrians and people on bikes.  UCSD has taken positive steps to create village-like settings on campus; it would be great to see them connect with villages off-campus too, as other colleges are doing around the country.