City Council

Getting it done on downtown

After years of spinning its wheels on the issues of downtown parking and traffic, the Chico City Council got some real traction this week, making several decisions at its meeting Tuesday (Oct. 16) that will have significant long- and short-term impacts.

Just as important, perhaps, councilmembers expressed a desire to establish an ad-hoc committee whose purpose would be to develop a “big picture” vision for the downtown area for consideration during the general plan update process.

The many parking and transportation decisions were made as part of a review of parking solutions recommended by the Downtown Parking and Access Plan developed following a five-day charrette held in the spring of 2006.

Early in Tuesday’s meeting, Dale Bennett—representing Roth Investments, a family trust that owns numerous properties downtown—complained about the lack of action over the years. “Whatever you decide to do, please go ahead and do it,” he urged.

Judging by what followed, councilmembers heard him loud and clear.

Among the short-term items, the council decided to pursue the idea of expanding the use of parking meters to evenings and Saturdays, with the goal of better managing parking. It also decided to implement flexible pricing and timing during evening hours so people could park for longer than two hours.

The issue was controversial, with one downtown restaurant owner (from Caffe Malvina) saying it would drive away customers. Others argued that there was no need to manage parking in the evenings, as plenty of open spaces were available.

Supporters, such as Katrina Davis-Woodcox, executive director of the Downtown Chico Business Association, insisted parking management is critical. “We have to practice it now.”

The question of how to enforce the parking laws revolved around Police Chief Bruce Hagerty’s statement that he didn’t have the staff to do more than was presently being done. This led to two decisions: to explore whether parking meter revenues can be used to pay for increased parking enforcement, and to explore possibly outsourcing enforcement to a private company, as other cities have done.

The council also agreed to put up more signage downtown directing drivers to parking lots and to move forward on plans to install diagonal parking on several streets in neighborhoods near downtown, thereby creating about 100 new spaces.

The one change in the diagonal-parking plan concerned Salem Street, which will have back-in spaces on only one side, leaving room for a bike path and northbound fire truck route.

Another decision with possibly major impacts was to further explore the plan’s recommendation that the downtown parking requirements now imposed on new businesses be relaxed or eliminated. Downtown businesses have long sought relief from onerous parking requirements that they say have impeded new projects downtown.

The council also voted to continue to explore the creation of satellite parking sites that, with a shuttle, could be used by city employees, thus freeing up space in the City Hall lot. Capital Project Services Director Tom Varga said efforts to locate a satellite site had been unsuccessful, but the council wanted him to keep trying.

The implementation report from Varga contained many additional suggestions, and councilmembers told him to continue moving forward on them.

Then they turned their attention to Councilwoman Mary Flynn’s proposal to form an ad-hoc downtown study group that would operate on a track parallel to the General Plan Advisory Committee, with the idea of feeding its “vision” of downtown into that committee’s deliberations.

There was much discussion of how the group would be formed and how it would connect with the GPAC. Ultimately the council asked Planning Services Director Steve Peterson to contact the general plan consultants to get their advice on the matter.

The many decisions the council made Tuesday may seem like a continuation of its heretofore piecemeal approach to downtown, but actually they were part of a growing effort to look at what Flynn calls “the big picture.” This is being prompted largely by the general plan process, which councilmembers realize is an opportunity to do serious long-term planning.

“Where do we want to be in 20 years?” Flynn asked. Tuesday’s meeting was at least a partial effort to begin answering that question.