Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Parking Management That Actually Manages Parking

At about 10:30 this morning, I step out of my office at the corner of Poli and Oak and walk down Oak Street to get a cup of coffee at Palermo. Almost immediately, I notice something different.

The parking lot on Oak Street, usually two-thirds empty in the morning, is mostly full. And the on-street parking spaces along Oak and Main Street, which are mostly occupied on a typical morning at this time, are mostly vacant.

It takes me a moment before I realized why: The paid parking portion of our downtown parking management program had gone into effect at 10 a.m., and it was already showing results. People who park all day downtown have moved into the lots and the upper levels of the parking garage. Spaces on the street are now available for shoppers, diners, and others who were running short-term errands. In other words, only 30 minutes after we instituted the parking management program, it is working.

In all the discussions around town this summer about paid parking, the emphasis has always been on the "paid" part. Why is the city charging for parking downtown? Are we just being greedy? Where will the money go? Why would anyone go downtown if they have to pay to park?
These are all fair questions. (And they all have good answers -- for example, all the parking revenue money is going to benefit downtown and not being spent elsewhere in the city.) But the questions have obscured an important goal of the paid parking, which has nothing to do with revenue. The goal is to encourage employees and other long-term parkers downtown in order to free up space on the street for shoppers. And I was stunned at how quickly our "parking management" goal was achieved.

All day, we have a dozen or so police officers, public works officials, police cadets, and police volunteers downtown assisting people. When I go out again at lunchtime, the street spaces are beginning to fill up -- and everywhere I look, somebody from the city is helping a downtown shopper figure out how to use the new machines. But the point is still clear: The on-street spaces are gradually filling up with people who had come downtown to shop.

In the months leading up to the inauguration of paid parking, I kept hearing stories about how downtown employees were hogging the onstreet spaces. I heard that some merchants told their employees to park on the street -- but a block away, so as not to take up parking in front of the store. I heard that some businesses and employees erase the chalk marks that our parking enforcement folks put on their tires. I heard that some business owners give their employees a few minutes off every two hours to move their cars.

Frankly, I wasn't sure if I believed all these stories. After all, why would any merchant park in front of their own store? Why would you deal with all the hassles to park on the street -- erasing chalk, moving cars -- when there's free parking in city lots a half-block away? It seemed ridiculous to me. But the lesson from today is that it's not ridiculous. Obviously, what's been happening is that employees have been parking on the street and now they are parking in the lots.

At about 3 pm, I decide it is time for another cup of coffee at Palermo, partly just to see what was going on. By now most of the onstreet spaces are taken -- but the police volunteers and cadets are still around. A woman wanderes past Palermo and asks me if I know how to use the machines. I start to help her (she seems tickled pink that the mayor is helping her) when a fresh-faced police cadet comes up and does a better job of explaining it.

Anybody's first impulse, I think, is that paying for parking is a bad thing. But upon reflection, a lot of folks -- merchants and shoppers alike -- have come around to the idea that it can be a good thing.

Some shoppers have complained over the past few months that parking at the mall is free, so why should they pay to park downtown? The answer -- provided by Downtown Ventura Organization board chair Dave Armstrong -- is that you're paying for access to a few hundred premium spaces. And he's right. After all, all the mall parking spaces are far away from the stores -- farther than even the most remote free lot downtown. If it was possible to drive right inside the mall and park in front of your favorite store, don't you think the mall would charge for that space? And don't you think some people who think it's worth it would pay the price? Obviously, the answer to both these questions is yes.

Similarly, Main Street merchants have come to see that paid parking can help them too by opening up short-term spaces close to their store. As the owner of Jersey Mike's told me today, her customers used to have to circle the block three times looking for a space or park in a faraway parking lot. Now they can park right in front of her shop for a quarter -- or a dime -- or a nickel -- while they pick up their order. Because even though it's $1 for the first hour, you can buy less time with coins. And there's less traffic on the street because there's less "cruising" for a parking space.

6 pm: I head out to one our local establishments. Now it's very busy downtown -- the younger crowd is beginning to head out to downtown -- and the onstreet spaces are still mostly full. Prime time downtown.

Some people who grumbled about this idea pointed to the experience this summer at Ventura Harbor: Paid parking was instituted in the prime lot near the Village on weekends. But, the complainers pointed out, the Harbor ended the program early because they didn't achieve their revenue goals. True enough, but it was a gloomy summer and tourist business was off generally. And what the complainers tend to overlook is the fact that the Harbor actually did meet the parking management goals. Employees and all-day parkers going to the Channel Islands parked elsewhere, freeing up plenty of space for peope shopping at the Village. In that sense, it was a success.

9:15 pm. I take one final swing through downtown. Parking on the street is fairly light now -- especially on California between Santa Clara and Thompson (near the garage) and on other side streets such as Oak. And it's a fairly quiet Tuesday night -- most places. I peek into Anacapa Brewing to talk to owner Danny Saldana -- and, to my amazement, the place is completely full. Danny is happy with the situation and, like many other downtown business owners, says he is providing one-hour parking coupons to his regular customers for free. It's well worth it, he says, to keep them coming.

I walk back up Oak Street toward the office. The spaces on the street are mostly empty. And the parking lot across from office -- usually almost empty by now -- is completely full. Eleven hours later and it's still working.


  1. I wish there was some other way around this. It seems not. One of the big differences between LA and Ventura to me has always been that I don't need to worry about paying for parking and keeping such a razor sharp eye on the clock. It's change. I have no doubt it'll achieve it's goals, but it still makes me feel like we've lost something.

    Once again, a few selfish people (lazy employees?) screw good things up for everybody else.

  2. I salute you on your parking program. I guess the only question is: why are you providing "free" parking in the lots? This parking isn't actually free, of course. The land itself is valuable, and there is a loss of the revenue and jobs that the land would otherwise produce if it were used for something (stores, housing, cafes, businesses, offices, etc) other than free automobile storage. Further, the vast lots spread out features of the downtown and discourage walking.

    I urge you to read Donald Shoup's book, "The High Cost of Free Parking." I also suggest you let everyone who parks their car for free in those lots know the following information, perhaps by a posted sign:

    "The cost of the storage space for your car is provided to you for free, courtesy of taxpayers, residents, and all the people who walk, bicycle, or take transit here. You're welcome."

  3. You did lose something, Ken. Outdated an inefficient and outdated parking policy. Kudos to Ventura for taking the leap. I hope to see more cities in Southern California do this.

  4. Dear Ken: why worry? park in the free lots and walk the extra distance - you can stop watching the clock and maybe your waistline too!

    Bravo Mayor! Whenever I drop a coin in a downtown parking meter I remember that this small contribution not only makes convienient parking possible, but supports the downtowns I love.

  5. Hi Bill - What observers also overlook is that paid parking was part of a larger integrated plan - not just a pell mell installation of meters without regard to location, economic factors, etc...

  6. Another winner post about pricing and the marketplace in the guise of prosaic policymaking and everyday governing. This blog is a must-read for your policy students, but I imagine you can't mandate it. Unfortunately.
    I'm thinking it's valuable not only for the insights but for the model: how to organize one's thoughts, identify an argument, and move through intro, body, and conclusion with clarity and grace. That's a characteristic mostly lacking from Masters students writing, and no surprise - it's a hard-won skill. I suggest they read though the posts back to back as I have been doing. It's a great introduction to the writing of a straightforward issue statement...a task that stymies most advanced students. OK - I have to get back to my own issue statements!

  7. Geez - there's plenty of free parking through out the city and just because they don't to walk 1/2 a block, they have to bitch. This is ridiculous!!!!

  8. My name is Jackie Phillips, my company's name is The Social Pet, and I live in San Leandro, south of Oakland.

    I am visiting Ventura for a four day dog show at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, which started today. This my first trip to Ventura, and it will probably be my last based on today's incident. My full size red van has my company name and phone number with area code on the back side, visible to everybody.

    This evening, Thursday, at 4:50 PM, I entered the Buenaventura park to walk my dogs around the paths and grassy areas, after leaving the fairgrounds just a few minutes earlier. I remember the time because I saw the closing time at the park was sunset, and I knew that was just over a half hour. I knew I would only have a few minutes to walk my dogs around.

    I noticed there was a self pay station to enter the park, but I thought it was too late in the day, with only a half hour left, to pay the fee. I also noticed I was the only car in the parking lot, except of a fifth wheel trailer parked on the far side of the lot.

    I walked my dogs quickly around the parking lot and grassy areas, and was back to my car by 5:10 PM. I noticed the time as I got into my car. On my windshield was a ticket for $70 for not paying the parking fee. I had remembered seeing a lifeguard driving fast out of the lot just as I walked back to my car from the walk. I figured that was the person who ticketed my car. I did not know that lifeguards were allowed to issue citations.

    Obviously, I was very upset for receiving the ticket since it was so late in the day, and since I had only been in that parking lot for 20 minutes and I was still issued a ticket. I am guessing that lifeguard was somewhere nearby, and was sitting and waiting for me to walk away from my car, and then swoop into the issue the ticket.

    Is this town so hard up for money, and so desperate for funds that they are willing to disrespect and rob an obvious visitor? My phone number with area code is in very large text on both the front and sides of the van. I stood out like a visitor/tourist. Maybe that is why I was zeroed in on. They guessed that I was floating in money, which would be totally contradictory.

    This episode definitely left a stale taste in my mouth, so much that I felt the need to state this episode publicly to the mayor. Since I don't live here, this gouging may be a ongoing problem in this city, and I am just another victim.

  9. Jackie, your complaint would be more valid if you hadn't tried to get away with parking for free in a paid spot. Violating the law a little bit doesn't mean you get a freebie. If you had parked during free hours and been ticketed, then you would have a legitimate gripe. As it stands though, you can get in line with these people:
    "Officer, I was only going a little over the speed limit!"
    "Commissioner, I only took steroids a few times!"
    "Your honor, I hardly beat my wife at all!"

    As for the mayor and the city, good for you for not only creating a smart law but enforcing it as well.

  10. the meters are OK, high teck, but OK. I got a parking ticket because my wheel was touching the line. Ok to that, but if you guys need $40 that bad...just ask. I'm a rich tourist.

  11. I think the meters are good and will benefit the businesses and shoppers alike.

    Now, what can we do about the residential parking issues?

    I pay taxes to the city each year to own a house only to have a house rented across the street with six cars.

    Of the six, 2 are commercial vehicles, real eye sore in front of my house.

    In my opinion Parking in front of property other than your own should not be illegal.

    I love Ventura, however this daily stresser is causing me to rethink a new location to live.

    I challenge the city to fix this issue.

  12. I am so shocked that the parking enforcement worked so quickly.

  13. People that got issues with parking space except for those who owns the lot should go for a quality parking business that provides quality and top convenience.

  14. I guess there are organizations providing good and quality parking services... Oakland airport parking

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