Shift into park
New meter rates push more parked cars into the neighborhoods
Tried to park downtown lately? It’s not too difficult to find a metered but open spot close to your destination.
Tried lately to find free parking in the neighborhoods next to the downtown? No easy task, that.
There are two reasons for this development. First, the obvious: School is back in session, meaning the downtown visitor or employee is competing with the college student for that conveniently located parking spot. Nothing new there; happens every year.
But a new variable has been tossed into the equation—the recently doubled parking meter rates have apparently driven more parking-spot searchers into the residential neighborhoods with their promises of free, unrestricted parking.
In July 2004, the Chico City Council voted to double the parking meter fees from 25 cents to 50 cents an hour. The increase went into effect in July. At about the same time, an affirmative vote by the council to extend meter-enforcement times by four hours a day and add Saturdays was successfully overturned when a citizen’s group qualified a referendum to put the issue to the voters. Last month, in response, the council rescinded its decision to extend hours.
The parking fee increase combined with the extended hours was expected to raise about $10 million toward financing a multi-level, $15 million to $18 million parking structure; the remaining $5 to $8 million would come out of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds, whose budget currently stands at $36.6 million.
But the exodus of parking to the neighborhoods has siphoned the expected increase in parking meter revenue. The doubled rates have resulted in an overall increase of only 37 percent ($53,327) over last year’s take for the period of July through September, according to the city’s finance department. Last year’s total for that three-month period was $146,062; this year’s was $199,389.
“They didn’t double like you would expect,” said City Manager Tom Lando. “This is a supply-and-demand issue and as some have said, it may have forced parking into the neighborhoods.”
Lando said he is not sure how that plays into the logistics of building a new parking garage.
“I don’t know what that means yet,” he said. “We have to have a record of revenue and this would affect what we can do.”
Ironically, he noted, the parking shift to the neighborhoods has remedied the downtown congested parking problem, at least on a temporary basis.
These numbers reflect what the city collects in coins from the meters, not the money from the 197 leased parking spaces. Since those leases run for one year, the increases will not be calculated until next year, said city accountant Jarrod Orr. The rate for leased spots jumped in August from $348 to $625 per year.
“There is not a lot of data on them right now,” Orr said. “They were leased out at 100 percent capacity for a year. Next spring we’ll start to see whether the renewals are coming in.”
For the past few years the Downtown Chico Business Association has pushed hard for construction of a new structure to be located on the surface lot at Second and Wall streets, home of the Saturday Farmers’ Market, directly across the street from the CN&R.
Katrina Davis, the DCBA’s executive director, said her organization is considering other options, like encouraging downtown business owners and employees to park at the 10-hour parking spots located just beyond the downtown zone and encouraging the Employee Bus Pass program, which provides free bus transportation to downtown employee.
The problem with the bus pass program, she said, is that the county and city recently merged their bus systems creating the Butte Regional Transit or B-Line and bus passes have not yet been printed or issued. They are expected next month.
She said the diversion of parking from the downtown area is a good thing, because presumably those parking in the neighborhoods are the business owners and employees.
“You can’t force people to park somewhere,” she said. “You have to provide some incentive. Some people who work downtown park there and then have to run out and feed the meter every two hours.
“We haven’t heard that [reduced downtown parking] has hurt businesses,” Davis said. “Employees don’t want to pay 50 cents an hour. We need an incentive that doesn’t penalize employees but encourages them to park [outside of the downtown].”
“The dialogue has started to shift,” Davis said. “It’s not just about a parking structure, but also all the different options. Let’s see what is being done and what can be done.”