Sacramento’s downtown parking nightmare

Major changes could mean higher prices, stiffer restrictions

The city’s planning to change its parking rules just as new scratch is needed to finance the Kings arena. Critics question this timing—and whether the changes are legal.

The city’s planning to change its parking rules just as new scratch is needed to finance the Kings arena. Critics question this timing—and whether the changes are legal.


SN&R first broke this story on its blog at

Parking in the central city is going to get more expensive and restrictive, if a number of proposed changes make it past the Sacramento City Council next month, SN&R has learned.

Meanwhile, municipal watchdogs are calling the revenue-boosting strategy a naked attempt to cover the city’s arena-financing vig—and questioning whether it’s even legal.

“This may very well be violative of [state and local statutes],” said Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell, echoing concerns raised by the Sacramento Taxpayers Association.

Specifically, the draft plan calls for scrapping the 6 p.m. start time for free parking on city streets and shifting it much later, to 2 a.m. The reduction of daily free parking hours from 19 to six would also be extended throughout the week, eradicating the amnesty parking that city dwellers have become used to on Sundays, according to a city Parking Meter Program & Rate Briefing that was obtained by SN&R.

The briefing says the changes are intended to encourage motorists to use the parking garage as “a less expensive, long-term option” and increase turnover at the meters, which it says “should be used as a short-term parking option.”

A storm of criticism erupted shortly after SN&R revealed the details of the proposal last week. Hundreds of commenters decried the possible changes—which have yet to be formally proposed—on SN&R’s blog and Facebook wall, as well as on Sacramento’s subReddit forum.

“Gee! Who could have foreseen this? … Mayor gives away the parking revenue so he can get his pet arena built, and now the city wants to charge for all parking all the time,” read one of the more popular Facebook comments, from Brian Huck.

City parking officials declined to be interviewed about what they consider a still-developing plan. “We should have the details finalized in a few weeks prior to going to Council,” Marycon Razo, a spokeswoman in the city manager’s office, wrote in an email. She added that the city was still in the process of vetting ideas and conducting outreach.

Parking officials have already shared their plans with business groups in Old Sacramento, downtown and Midtown.

Valerie Mamone-Werder, the senior manager of business development at the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said City Parking Manager Matt Eierman presented to DSP’s board of directors on July 15. She said Eierman explained that the council will be asked to cast its support behind two specific proposals, including a rate increase that will bump up meter prices by 50 cents an hour, to $1.75—or 35 cents per 12 minutes.

The second action item that could be decided is a proposed pilot program called Special Parking Over Time, or SPOT, she said. The “dynamic pricing model” would allow city residents and visitors to extend their hours of parking beyond the metered limit of two hours, as long as they’re willing to pay premiums of up to 25 percent.

Mamone-Werder described her board’s feedback as largely positive, though it hasn’t taken a formal position. “We’re really excited,” she said, adding that parking rates hadn’t moved since 2008.

More suspect of the timing was Powell, who characterized the pitch to raise parking revenues as a backdoor ploy to finance the arena. “It’s sort of the golden goose that’s going to make them well,” he said of anticipated parking monies.

The city hasn’t exactly tried to hide this.

According to what’s called a comprehensive annual financial report that the city files each year, the city’s share of the Entertainment and Sports Center is $223 million. Approximately $5.5 million of that will come directly from the city’s parking fund. But in reality, that fund will be tapped even deeper.

Most of what the city owes toward the arena is being covered by lease-revenue bonds the city says are backed by its general fund. Once issuance and interest costs are factored in, those bonds are anticipated to cost the city between $298 million and $325 million, significantly more than the city’s stated cash contribution to the arena.

According to the same financial report, the city pledges to cover its annual debt-service payments on these bonds through three sources.

One of them is parking program revenues.

Net parking revenues have already been creeping up over the past decade, from $2.3 million in 2005 to $3.4 million last year, according to city financial documents. The city has done this by spending less on parking operations and keeping more of the money it pulls in through fees and citations, which numbered 171,000 last year.

The city spent approximately $15.2 million on parking operations last fiscal year. That’s the smallest investment since 2006, when the city spent $14 million on parking operations—and also represents a steady, if incremental, decline since 2010.

Powell contends the city is restricted by Proposition 26 and its own city code from using parking revenues on nonparking-related programs and costs. “You just can’t raise taxes through parking meter rates,” he said.

While readers were angered over these proposals after SN&R broke news of them last week, Powell said he’s known of them for years.

He said City Treasurer Russell Fehr briefed him on the city’s long-term parking revenue strategies before a term sheet agreement was in place with the Kings ownership group. And Powell says there are more changes coming, like expanding the number of neighborhoods where permitted parking is required, and adding more meters where there currently are none.

“It’s outrageous and I think it’s just the beginning,” he said.

While permits are free for residents to obtain, the city can ticket nonresidents who park in those spots.

The city briefing actually anticipates some of these moves. Under a section titled “Controlled Parking,” it states, “Currently there are hundreds of parking spaces within the Central City that have no parking restrictions. Each parking space within the central [sic] City shall have controls on them. Controlled parking could include time zones, Residential Parking zone or parking meters.”

As far as Mamone-Werder knows, council members won’t be asked to decide on that next month. But they could vote on a “dynamic pricing model” that would be tried out in Midtown and Old Sacramento for a period of 90 days. Here’s how it works: Anyone parking at meters in those zones will still pay the new market rate of $1.75 for hours one and two. If someone wanted to keep the space for a third hour, they would have to pay $3. For every additional hour after that, the space would cost $3.75.

People would be able to purchase these additional hours at the meter or through a mobile app, the briefing states.

Mamone-Werder said the idea is to ultimately expand these zones throughout the central city.

Parking officials are also expected to seek council input on additional proposals.

They include the implementation of an “event pricing model” for on-street parking when the new downtown arena opens next summer, the briefing states. In effect, the closer someone parks to the arena during event days, the more they would pay for longer-term street parking.

The first hour of parking would still be $1.75. But if someone planned to stay longer, they would be asked to pay a flat-rate option of $15 in the zone closest to the arena; $10 in the secondary zone; and a $5 flat rate in the zone furthest from the arena.

There’s also talk of discontinuing or modifying the no-cost holiday parking hours that extend from Thanksgiving to December 25 in Midtown, downtown and Old Sacramento.

All told, meter revenue is expected to increase by 10 percent to 25 percent under these changes, the briefing says.

Midtown Business Association Executive Director Emily Baime Michaels characterized her group as preliminarily supportive of the dynamic pricing model and 50-cent bump in meter rates.

“[B]ut we’d love to hear from your readers and our customers to determine their thoughts on the increase,” she wrote in an email. “We are working through evening parking enforcement and holiday parking, [but] the current proposal does not yet meet our needs.”

Since last Wednesday, SN&R’s Facebook wall has attracted more than a hundred negative comments from people who said the changes would keep them out of the city. “They really don’t want anyone down there, do they?” wrote a Facebook user identified as Tina Bennett.

Mamone-Werder acknowledged that the changes might raise “some immediate concerns or dissatisfaction” among consumers and local merchants, but believed those would ease as people got used to them. “Parking has always been a challenging thing,” the former business owner said.

The discussion may have also re-energized the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, which is rebuilding under new president Katy Grimes after being “whittled down” for years, she said. “This is a huge, huge deal,” she said. “We will do something.”

Powell said his organization would also take a hard look at any proposals going before the council. “They have been getting away with this for years,” he said of the city using parking revenues to cover nonparking costs. “Well, that game is over.”