Downtown Parking Structure Update

Proposal

The City Council has directed City Staff to explore the feasibility of a project that would combine a new Downtown Branch Library with multiple stories of parking on the site commonly known as the Farmers’ Market Lot, or “Lot 4”. The project meets a number of goals for the city and has a great degree of merit. There are also many strong arguments which oppose this project. I will do my best to provide an objective analysis as well as to present some consideration as to how this project may affect the Downtown Association and our members.

Library

In 2016 voters passed a bond act (measure S) of $67m of which approximately $25m is available for Renovation to Branches in the City of Santa Cruz. There are many advantages to creating a new facility for the Downtown Branch Library as opposed to renovating the existing space. Including a contemporary design, updated programmatic opportunities and eliminating the cost of a temporary facility during the renovation.

The Library does have a certain level of urgency as Measure S funds sunset and go away if not spent. The Library has set up an advisory committee to review options and make recommendations.

Parking

There is an assumption on the part of the Parking District management that parking demand will continue to increase. There are still a number of office vacancies and there is a significant wait list for permits. A number of housing projects, in different stages of development, are slated to be built in the next several years, including a project on a part of lot 5 that the city currently leases from Cavalry Church. That project would result in the loss of around 90 spaces. Additional lots are also expected to be lost to accommodate new development, especially housing.

The proposal is for 632 spaces but would be a net gain of 375, when accounting for the loss of spaces mentioned above and the 135 existing spaces

Farmers Market
Of Course, of great concern is the future of the Farmers Market. There is a commitment from the City Management, to find a permanent home for the market, as well as for the Antique Fair if this project moves forward.

Parking Demand
It is true that parking demand is going up in Downtown Santa Cruz. There are a number of office users coming into downtown, and a good percentage of them drive. We want Downtown to be as accessible as possible and easy to find parking is a big part of that. As mentioned we are losing some of the surface lots, so demand is exacerbated by that.

Parking demand is going down globally. I really believe that within the decade the demand for parking will be reduced significantly. This is not based on a hunch that I have, this is what people who study economics and land use and transportation are saying. It is going to become more and more disproportionately expensive to drive cars the way we have for decades. Cities around the world are spending a lot of resources right now preparing their downtowns for a new model of transportation that is void of the single user car and focused on designing for people. The future of transportation does not include cars to the degree that it has for the last century, and the future is really not that far away.
Having said that, that puts us in a very challenging position as demand in Downtown Santa Cruz is projected to go up and to go down at the same time.
 
Land Use
There is a very strong argument in favor of this project that has to do with land use. It is efficient to consolidate parking, making it easy to get people to the lot, without driving around to multiple surface lots, and as demand is reduced, those surface lots can be repurposed for a higher and better use. ie. housing. It is not insignificant that this project would free up the better part of a city block on Church Street for the city to repurpose in any variety of ways.
 
TDM
Is there more that the city can be doing to reduce car trips to Downtown? Yes, absolutely. and I expect that whatever happens with this project the city will likely step up their game. And, many of the arguments and examples that have been put forth are somewhat misleading. The Stanford example, for example, is only part of a complex story. A university/hospital approach to parking management is much different than a commercial district. Stanford has made a lot of really amazing progress with TDM and Stanford has added hundreds of new parking spaces as well.
Priority
Though we haven’t done anything to gather information about this ourselves, I have seen data from Economic Developments Study, which will be published next month, and I have heard anecdote and public comment from the community, including a umber of folks from our membership. The generally sense that I have based on that very unscientific information is that adding new parking is not a priority for Downtown. I am hearing that addressing homelessness and crime and cleanliness is far more important and there is a feeling that as a financial priority, this dows not make sense. I can’t say to what degree those sentiments come from a full understanding of the project and with the knowledge that we are expected to lose a number of parking spaces.
Financing
With an understanding of all of that I have stated above, I feel very mixed about the project.
Then when we talk about a $37m price tag, I, personally, need to be more than mixed about it to get behind it.  Whatever formula we land on to pay for this it will be subsidized. There is not yet a proposal as to how this project will be paid for, but it is almost unheard of that a parking garage is not subsidized.
If we pay for this, whoever “we” ends up being, what won’t we pay for?
Downtown Management
The amount of money that the businesses pay for parking has an impact on the amount of money the businesses will pay for other programs. The businesses are assessed $1.2m annually in the Downtown. Most of that goes to the Parking District. $250k goes to the Downtown Association. $250k goes to the Rangers. Downtown Santa Cruz has a much higher assessment relative to rent than most Downtowns that I am familiar with. The ability to add funding for new programs or to expand existing programs is very much impacted by the parking fees.
Support
So far, as you have undoubtedly witnessed, there is not a lot of support for this project.
I do believe there are a lot of very good arguments that support this project. I also feel like there are some very significant concerns. I hope the city will not proceed without the support of the Downtown Association, which would require significant buy-in from our members.
We will continue to have more conversations about this project in the months to come, and I will strive to keep you as informed as possible about the project.
I do think our support will be critical for this project to move forward. I would like to encourage us to think of this, not in terms of whether we do or don’t support this project, but what would a project that we would support look like?
How would the fee structure change? Is there an opportunity to fund other programs through the project? What are the priorities for the Downtown Businesses that could be connected with such a project? We may not get to a project that we (our members) want to support, but I feel like that is the conversation to have.
I expect we will have a special meeting in the near future to discuss this item.
As always, I’m happy to attempt to answer any questions.
Chip