Curt and Karen Simmons
NOTE: We are printing this op-ed piece published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel July 14, 2019 because it is as timely today as it was two and a half years ago.
There is a perception that downtown Santa Cruz has a shortage of parking spaces. Customers come into our business, often late for their appointments, stating, “I just couldn’t find any parking.” Employees who arrive after 10 a.m. or who leave for lunch and try to get back in, often tell me, “There are no parking spaces left.” Yet an independent parking study commissioned by the City of Santa Cruz found that there is plenty of parking downtown during the peak hours. We have spot shortages, but not an overall shortage. The study found that parking supply will be adequate to meet demand ten years into the future, even with new development downtown and loss of surface parking lots.
What we are lacking is careful parking management.
Parking management would price parking according to the popularity of the location. Monthly permit holders would not be assigned to prime locations. Currently, the Locust Street Garage near our business frequently fills to capacity on weekday afternoons. When the garage is full, 60% of spaces are occupied by monthly permit holders. Thankfully, the city has taken steps to incentivize those of us who work downtown to consider alternatives to solo auto commutes. In addition to raising parking rates, the city has approved free bus passes and Jump Bike credit for all downtown employees, a program that has been successful in other cities. We appreciate these steps of progress. As several consultants have advised the city, the results of these measures should be evaluated before planning a new parking structure. UCSC professor and parking researcher Adam Millard Ball advised the city we are in an interim period before automated vehicles cause a large drop in parking demand.
With proper parking management, we can all win. A new parking structure that would cost the Downtown Parking District $87 million in debt payments over 30 years would be rendered unnecessary. The surplus funds could be used for the library to complete the renovation in its existing location and support housing for the downtown workforce. We could offer the farmers market a permanent home at its current location. The site could be improved to become a Town Commons and event space.
People are tribal. We need to gather. Historically we do that by gathering in spots where there is the interconnection of corridors. We have visited memorable cities, where public plazas matter. In many American cities today, including Santa Cruz, the connective tissue that binds communities and anchors neighborhoods is missing or in need of repair. A proven remedy is to create public space that allows people to connect and cultivate trust. This space allows us to refresh and feel in touch with nature.
The farmers market lot is an example of a great location to do that. With more residential development planned for downtown, it becomes even more important to create an outdoor living room for the urban family to gather. A revitalized library and farmers market will create a welcoming aspect to people of all backgrounds, drawing visitors downtown. And that’s good for business.
The Climate Action Plan, approved by the city in 2012 has a goal to “Reduce GHG emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled, decreasing single occupancy vehicle travel, and increasing the use of alternative fuels and transportation options.” A new multi-story garage does just the opposite. Fortunately, we can choose a win-win for the library, for business, and for the community. We can have a safe, walkable, convivial place to be together.
Let’s try it.
Dr. Curt Simmons has operated Plaza Lane Optometry for 25 years. The following business owners add their names to this letter: Dr. Jennifer Buell, Plaza Lane Optometry; Patrice Boyle, Soif Wine Bar; Paul Cocking, Gabriella Café; Lisa Graham, Agile Monkey; John Hamstra, The Bagelry; Wade Hall and Matt Potter, Spokesman Bicycles; Lauren McLaughlin, Salon on the Square; Joseph Schultz, India Joze; Paul Speraw, Metavinyl, Noelle Antolin and Stuyvie Bearns Esteva, Lupulo.