Blueprint for congestion?

Sacramento’s first parking master plan draws fire

Marilyn Bryant, executive director of the Sacramento Transportation Management Association, thinks the parking plan goes too far in accommodating the automobile.

Marilyn Bryant, executive director of the Sacramento Transportation Management Association, thinks the parking plan goes too far in accommodating the automobile.

Photo By Larry Dalton

At some point, most Sacramentans have experienced one problem or another with downtown parking. Maybe it was a ticket for parking in the wrong place on a street-cleaning day, trouble finding a spot near a favorite restaurant or endless hoop-jumping to obtain a residential parking permit. But these are just some of the many issues facing local residents, business owners and commuters.

How to address downtown’s varied parking problems? The city’s taken a stab at it, with the final draft of its Central City Parking Master Plan due to come before the city council on August 29.

The report was released for review in June. The 78-page document is filled with recommendations, from increasing enforcement to better managing the city’s supply of available parking spaces. It’s the first time Sacramento has developed a blueprint for downtown parking as part of its general plan.

Critics are staking out their territory. Comments, like those that usually accompany the release of a new Rob Schneider film (think Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo), run the gamut: Some say that even as it was written with the best intentions, it falls short of being effective; others simply call it garbage.

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) charges that the plan promotes vehicle parking rather than encouraging commuters to use alternative methods of transportation. In a July 7 letter to city officials, ECOS officials criticized the proposed parking plan.

“Most of this is just complete garbage,” ECOS Executive Director Graham Brownstein told SN&R. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Brownstein is also miffed since he was among the 100 or so so-called “stakeholders”—residents, business owners and commuters—included in the planning process through six large and 15 smaller community meetings from February 2005 to June 2006. City officials said the goal of the meetings was to build a consensus. But to Brownstein, the meetings were little more than “dog and pony shows.”

Fran Halbakken, a planning and policy manager with the city’s department of transportation, notes that ECOS’s position is only one of many that must be taken into account. “Theirs is one viewpoint, and it needed to get balanced with others.”

The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District weighed in: “While the plan does address the need for bicycle parking and facilities and adopts several of the recommendations made by the district and others during the review process, the parking master plan still represents a ‘business as usual’ mentality.”

The Sacramento Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit representing 145 employers concerned about traffic congestion, has written two letters. Executive Director Marilyn Bryant took planners to task. Like Brownstein, Bryant believes the plan does too much to accommodate the automobile. “I would say that we’re all in agreement that the plan does not go far enough to promote the kind of downtown we want to see,” Bryant said.

Brownstein, Bryant and others want public transit better developed downtown. Paul Harriman, a member of the Neighborhood Advisory Group, even goes so far as to suggest that landlords provide free 10-year Regional Transit passes for all their tenants to promote ridership.

Others, like Midtown Business Association President Shawn Eldredge, want less regulation of the existing supply of parking. “We’re a long way from having a system that works, and heaven forbid the city does anything in its haste to deplete that inventory,” Eldredge said. “I want every Escalade in Granite Bay to have plenty of space to park, come down and spend their money.”

Although he admitted to not yet having read the final version of the master parking plan, Councilman Steve Cohn said he believes creating a long-term plan is important. “It’s a question of how we transition toward a time when more people are using other methods [of transportation],” he said.

Public comment will be heard again before the city council votes to adopt the master plan for downtown parking at its August 29 meeting.