Think beyond the parking lot

Karl Ory is a consultant for affordable housing and former Chico mayor

Recently, I’ve heard a lot about “done deals,” as in a four-level, $11-million parking structure at the site of the Farmers’ Market, at a cost of at least $20,000 a space. But more and more residents are learning about this “deal” and want no part of it.

Tonight (Thursday, for early readers of the CN&R) folks have been invited to a city “design” meeting. What they are not told is that the designers are directed only to consider a 700-space structure and only at the Second and Wall streets site. The city thinks that maybe the Saturday Farmers’ Market can be located inside. Shame on public officials who blunt creative planning.

The consultants, part of a $400,000-plus contract for preliminary engineering, will paint pretty pictures and bring their recommendations to the City Council May 17. Concerned residents should attend and ask for a more-open process to address need, location, cost, aesthetics, safety and alternatives.

An opinion survey found that consumers are satisfied with the present parking supply of over 4,000 parking spaces downtown. But the city’s market study applies arbitrary and unexplained growth factors to justify a “need” for over 400 new spaces over 20 years—and asserts that a parking structure alone can satisfy this phantom demand. Cannot the city imagine alternatives that would satisfy 1 percent annual growth?

A more reasonable projection of parking demand might avoid the draconian meter increases due to take effect this year. The city has already decided to double the rates and enforce parking each weekday night to 11 p.m. and add Saturday enforcement, also to 11 p.m., to pay for the structure. Peak demand is shown to be weekdays only, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and use never exceeded 61 percent of total spaces in the study. There is not a connection between those who will use peak demand parking or the new structure and those who will pay for it.

Hundreds of downtown spaces go unused by shoppers, rented to businesses or “plugged” by employees. Freeing up these spaces for shoppers would eliminate much of the “demand” for new spaces. And most of us don’t mind a short walk.

If we go slowly and look for compromise, we can do the right thing for downtown. We can still avoid a fight and take time to fit the Second and Wall streets block into an urban center plan that truly contributes to the health and beauty of the downtown.

Get involved. Speak out. Call council members. Sign the petitions. Attend the May 17 council meeting. Chico deserves better.