Got questions about Sacramento’s big parking changes? SN&R has answers.

City recently approved ‘modernization’ plan to help finance Kings arena debt

The city needs to generate more parking revenue to pay off Kings arena debt—err, to free up more general-fund monies to pay off Kings arena debt.

The city needs to generate more parking revenue to pay off Kings arena debt—err, to free up more general-fund monies to pay off Kings arena debt.


The latest battlefront in Sacramento’s ongoing parking wars is downtown, where city officials hope that higher rates for metered parking, later-evening enforcement hours, and an app—an app!—will both make parking more efficient and also help pay off $625 million in Kings arena debt.

So goes Sacramento’s ever-evolving parking-modernization game, which kicked off nearly 10 years ago with a Central City Parking Master Plan and, this week, continues with significant changes in advance of the arena opening later this year.

SN&R breaks down these new parking rules, looks at why things are changing—and explores what could happen down the road:

About those new, later parking-enforcement hours …

These are the most contentious changes. This past Tuesday, city council was scheduled to approve a plan that would, among other things, implement tiered pricing for metered spots in the central city, and also extend parking-enforcement hours at metered and nonmetered spots.

Enforcement would extend from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. west of 16th Street, from C to W streets—essentially, downtown within walking distance of the Golden 1 Center.

There will also be an increase of operating hours for all metered and nonmetered spots on the east side of 16th to the east side of 19th until 8 p.m. Free parking will go into effect only after these times.

I heard this is just phase one of a bigger plan?

That’s true. There are discussions of continued changes to enforcement hours. And these “modernizations” come on the heels of increases to metered parking this past November (upping rates from $1.25 an hour to $1.75, the first increase since 2008).

What the hell is SpotZone?

It’s an acronym: Special Parking Over Time. The city calls this tiered pricing, or a “dynamic pricing model,” which lets residents and visitors purchase more parking hours beyond the two-hour limit.

They’ll have to pay a premium for this, and the new tiered rates and hours will apply only to downtown for now (not Midtown … at least, not yet), from Front Street to 16th and C to W streets.

Updating sensors on meters and changing signage for the new tiered rates and hours will cost an estimated $1.3 million.

And you’ll have to use up some of your precious smartphone memory to download an app to pay for parking.

Wait, I really have to download an app to park?

Sort of. Let’s say you park near L and 14th streets for dinner with friends, but end up wanting to stay longer than two hours: You’ll have to download the app to pay for additional time, up to four hours total. The city embraces this because it allows for flexibility, just in case you overstay your couple of hours, but they also say it will encourage people to use parking garages instead of street parking, thereby prompting more turnover.

The city says people will also be able to use the app to possibly see how full parking garages are during Kings games, and to potentially reserve spots.

Can I still use quarters?

Indeed, you can.

This isn’t about modernizing our parking, right? This is about paying for the Kings arena.

That’s the elephant in City Hall: Sacramento will need to make some $625 million in arena-bond and interest payments over the next 35 years, and a major component of that payback plan is increasing parking-enforcement revenue. Yes, the city says its modernization effort is about things like vehicle turnover, traffic control, air quality, customer convenience, reducing meter-violation tickets and encouraging people to use parking garages instead of the street-side parking. But, really, it’s about the Kings. Modernization will contribute an estimated $4 million in new gross revenue, according to the city.

What about those old, green parking towers with the stickers?

Done. Over. Out. Less than 10 years old, there are some 300 green Parkeon parking towers that the city purchased for $7,500 a pop and installed in 2007. But five years later, in 2012, the city decided to buy some 4,300 “smart” parking meters, and has nearly phased out the old Parkeons. So goes technology …

Is it true that the city wanted to extend parking-enforcement hours until 2 a.m.?

Correct. The city’s original draft plan from July of last year proposed shifting free parking until as late as 2 a.m., but local business districts—and even neighborhood groups—fought hard against the idea. The new 10 p.m. time is a compromise.

How much are Sacto’s parking-meter rates compared to other cities?

Actually, they’re in line with other major California cities. San Jose meters operate at between $1 and $2 an hour. Fresno’s are 75 cents an hour. The regular hourly rate in Berkeley is $1.50, but there are premium zones that cost up to $2.75 an hour. San Francisco has implemented demand-responsive rates for city-owned garages, which on a recent Tuesday morning (a low-demand time) ranged from $1.50 to $7 an hour. In Long Beach, approximately the same population as the city of Sacramento, prices range from 75 cents to $2 an hour.

Is parking still free on Sundays?

Yes—but that could change, too. The city’s original plan from this past summer proposed extending parking enforcement to Sundays.

OK, so most people will just park in Midtown or its surrounding neighborhoods, then Uber to the Kings games?

Perhaps. This is a popular complaint by residents, who argue that visitors already are parking in the Midtown neighborhoods for free after 6 p.m., then taking Uber (at approximately $4.75 a trip) to a downtown destination. However, Uber and other ride-hailing services will likely be experiencing “surge pricing” during Kings games.

Wait, is upping parking rates and enforcement to pay for the Kings arena illegal?

That’s what individuals such as Craig Powell, of local watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, argued last year. But the city won a big decision in court recently that allows it to modernize its parking and also use it to finance arena debt.

State law says that a city can only use parking revenue for parking expenses like enforcement and upkeep. But the city attorneys claim that the new parking revenue will go to parking maintenance and costs, and a judge agreed.

How much will it be to park downtown during Kings games?

Still unknown, and city officials and the Kings are mum.

Right now, it costs $12 to park at Kings games. But that’s cheap, especially compared to nearby sports games: the Oakland Raiders ($35 per car), the San Francisco 49ers ($40), the Golden State Warriors ($40, or $30 in advance), and AT&T Park in San Francisco ($20 and upward of $60 at some private lots). Expect the Golden 1 Center event and game prices to align with these rates.

Is this the end of all the big parking changes?

Doubtful. The city will likely expand later enforcement hours to the rest of Midtown, east of 19th Street, in hopes of capturing more revenue. Net revenues for parking are up in the past 10 years, up to $3.4 million in 2014. And the new modernization efforts will more than double that number.