Garage Fact Check

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Claim

Downtown is losing parking spaces we need to replace.  There will be new developments (not providing their own parking?) we need to provide parking for.

The Facts

  • From the City's commissioned $100,000 parking study, 2019:
    • Current parking supplies exceed demand. In aggregate almost thirty percent of off-street parking in the Downtown remains empty even at the peak of the peak times…many facilities have less than 50 percent occupancy even during the peak periods.  Based on industry optimal peak occupancy of 90 percent, this utilization rate represents significant surplus capacity of existing parking resources in the district.” (emphasis added)
  • Patrick Siegman, lead the parking study:​
    • ​“The projections that I’ve done using the model that I built… What we see is that those price increases will reduce demand enough, so that even with new development and the loss of some surface parking spaces Downtown, you’ll still have a surplus.”
    • “We’ve seen in many communities before, that they raise prices for a new garage and discover that demand fell so much that the new garage was no longer needed.  And I think that is likely to happen here.
    • Watch the lead consultant's presentation to our City Council and verify for yourself:

Claim

Measure O promotes inefficient parking plans.

The Facts

  • The City allocates over 200 parking spaces in the Front Street Garage to the Seaside Company for their Boardwalk employees on the weekends in the summer.
  • The Library Mixed-Use proposal currently includes a new 243 parking space garage.
  • The County Buildings' parking lot contains 350 spaces and is almost entirely empty on the weekends when the County departments are closed.  The City should free up the 200+ spaces in our most popular garage (Front St) by transferring their deal with the Seaside Company to the empty County parking lot.
  • Question: With the immense financial and environmental cost of building a new 243 space garage, is the City displaying efficient parking practices?
  • Not only has our parking vacancy increased, the City's data from 2018 (showing pre-pandemic rates) shows over 1,500 vacant spaces in the Downtown Parking District during peak hours of peak days.
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Claim

The South end of Downtown needs more parking and we should put it in a new garage.
Measure O does not allow consolidation of surface lots into a new garage.

The Facts

  • From the City's $100,000 commissioned parking study, published in 2019:
    • ​"While current supply exceeds demand in aggregate, this demand is unevenly distributed. A small number of conveniently located and inexpensively priced facilities approach capacity at peak times. On the other hand, parking facilities in the southern portion of Downtown remain less than half full even at peak times." (emphasis added)
  • ​The Cedar Street Garage is the oldest parking garage in the district and one block from the City's Lot 4 Library Mixed-Use proposal.
    • The Cedar Street Garage has a massive footprint but is only 2 levels.
    • It is covered in ivy which, though great for carbon sequestering, causes more rapid decay of structures.
    • IF in the future, more parking is needed in the southern part of the Downtown Parking District, the Cedar Street Garage could be maximized by doubling its low height to 4 or more levels.  It would hugely increase the parking supply to that area, and be a much more efficient use of space (and efficient parking model) than the City's current trajectory.  
    • Measure O allows for the maximization of the Cedar Street Garage if we actually need more parking in the Southern Downtown in the future.  However, all current data shows we do not need it and that our environment would be greatly damaged by building a new garage or expanding an existing one.
 

Claim

The City can afford a bond debt for a new garage in the Mixed-Use Project with the parking district. The City has an excellent bond rating.

The Facts

  • The City does have an excellent bond rating.
  • The City currently plans to finance the garage by issuing 30 year revenue bonds based on the Downtown Parking District.
  • Bonds are issued based on demonstration of ability to pay them, usually on bases of taxes or specific funds/existing revenue streams.
  • The City's Parking District has been in deep deficit, not showing ability to pay a bond.
  • From the City's 2023 Fiscal Year Budget (pg. 14):
    • "With respect to Enterprise Funds, the Parking Fund continues to lag in recovery efforts
      as garage and parking permit fees were significantly discounted to encourage visitors
      to our Downtown. FY 2023 shows the Parking Fund estimated fund balance in a $3.7M
      deficit.
      " (emphasis added)
  • They will be unable to issue bonds on the Parking District until there is sufficient parking revenue to pay the annual debt.
    • As the graph shows, the Parking District is running annual deficits, with no sign of when revenue will meet expenses, let alone generate the annual surplus that is needed for bond debt payments.
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  • The City's Economic Development Director admitted they may need to get a direct loan instead of a bond, indicating the City Staff knows they may not qualify for a bond.
  • Any loan or bond would require repayment of the debt and at large interest rates.  When parking revenue falls short due to recessions or technological changes, the City is obliged to make the payments out of the General Fund, even if that requires cuts in other programs.
    • The City would likely raise parking rates. This could set off a deficit spiral as another rate increase (following the recent doubling of parking rates) could discourage parking Downtown, canceling out revenue gained by the rate increase. This will not be good for businesses Downtown, or the City’s financial health.
    • According to the City's 2023 Budget (pg. 199): outside of pension debt, the City "has a total outstanding debt obligation of $251,786,820 at the end of the fiscal year."
    • A big part of our annual debt service is for water and other crucial municipal needs. Taking on a loan or bond for a 5th and unneeded parking garage puts our general fund and other services at risk, or increases the risk of further fees/taxes placed on businesses or the community.
    • From the City's 2023 Budget (pg. 189) on our current "debt obligations":
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Claim

The City's 2019 commissioned parking study is just one study.  City Staff know better than the hired consulting firm that specializes in parking.

The Facts

  • The $100,000 study from experts in the field was for the purpose of an unbiased report on the parking supply and demand in Downtown Santa Cruz. 
  • The 2019 Study was not the only expert advice Santa Cruz Staff and officials have received during the time they have been pushing for a new downtown garage (which started in the early 2000's).
  • Three parking consultants presented at the joint meeting of the Downtown Commission and the Planning Commission in 2015.  All three recommended significant changes in our parking management instead of building new facilities.
    • ​From Janis Rhodes, JR Parking Associates: “No agency will make enough on user fees to pay for that [new] parking space. All three of us professionals and all my peers in the industry have become very conservative. Maximize existing inventories [of parking] before financing new resources.
    • Parking researcher Prof. Adam Millard-Ball told the City, “It’s cheaper to pay commuters not to park than to build a new garage.
    • Watch the recording of the meeting here.
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