Parking issue surfaces again

One speaker, Cheryl King, asked the council to consider a proposal in the 2006 charrette report to convert Main Street and Broadway to two lanes.

One speaker, Cheryl King, asked the council to consider a proposal in the 2006 charrette report to convert Main Street and Broadway to two lanes.

Photo courtesy of HDR TOWN PLANNING

Certain issues in Chico are like black holes: Once you enter them, you can’t get out. The location of the Saturday farmers’ market was like that, needing 20 years to become resolved.

A similar—and related—black-hole issue surfaced at the regular City Council meeting Tuesday (July 1): the city’s parking practices, particularly downtown. The discussion was sparked by the June 17 agreement with the market, which allows it to expand to use all of the municipal parking lot at Second and Wall streets. Council members wanted to discuss parking more broadly.

As became clear, however, the issue has been discussed ad infinitum (some would say ad nauseam). Studies have been done and reports written, hearings have been held, plans have been drawn up, smart-meter technology has been extolled—but little has been accomplished.

In 2003, the council commissioned a study that ended up bolstering its determination to build a three-story parking structure at the Second and Wall site. It voted to use revenue generated by increasing parking fees and expanding meter hours to Saturdays and evenings to help finance the structure.

As Michael Worley reminded the council during the public comment period, however, opponents of the structure collected sufficient signatures in 2005 to qualify a referendum overturning the expanded-hours ordinance, at which point the council rescinded it.

In March 2006, the city sponsored a five-day Downtown Access Planning Charrette, or public workshop, to brainstorm the parking issue. Two groups, HDR Town Planning, an urban-design firm, and Nelson/Nygaard, a transportation consultancy, ran the charrette and later issued an illustration-rich 89-page report.

Their conclusion was that a parking structure wasn’t yet needed, and that downtown parking could be improved by a variety of creative strategies, including adding more diagonal parking and installing smart meters.

Since then the city has added a number of diagonal spaces, and Chico State has built a 300-space parking garage at Second and Chestnut that directs student drivers seeking parking away from downtown.

Members of a new citizens’ group, the Parking Access Resource Committee, or PARC, urged council members to update the charrette report and use it as a starting point for improving parking.

“A lot has changed since the 2006 study,” said Cheryl King, a member of the committee. The university parking structure is a good example, she said. Its 300 spaces are available to the public on Saturdays and Sundays at no cost, “but nobody knows about it.”

Former Mayor Karl Ory, who like King was one of the leaders of the farmers’ market’s recent resistance to being moved from its current location, noted that on Saturdays many employees park downtown all day, taking up spaces that could be used by customers. They should be encouraged to use the university parking garage, he said.

Charging for Saturday parking would hurt, not help, downtown businesses, he added.

Mike Trolinder, a business consultant, said that PARC intended to develop an action plan and urged the council to hold off on making any major parking decisions, including expanding meter hours, until then. He noted that smart-meter technology had changed significantly since 2006.

Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen wanted to focus on the meters. He lamented the “analysis paralysis” afflicting the city and urged staff to come up with a plan for smart-metering the city and enforcing parking laws. “Let’s get off the dime and get this done,” he said.

When Sorensen made a motion to that effect, council members voted 6-0, with Ann Schwab recusing herself, in favor.

In other council news: When Police Lt. David Britt presented a bare-bones six-month review of the city’s sit/lie ordinance, council members asked for more. Britt offered data—13 warnings issued, one citation—but no insight into whether the ordinance was actually making downtown safer. They asked him to report again in six months.

Katie Simmons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, volunteered her organization to do a survey of downtown businesses to determine whether they thought the ordinance was working as intended.

Also, then-Interim City Manager Mark Orme announced that he’d promoted Chris Constantin, the administrative services director, to interim assistant city manager. (See Downstroke, page 8, for more on Orme’s position.)