Today’s post is inspired by an item on last night’s Sebastopol City Council agenda. The item was on the ‘Consent Calendar’ which is reserved for items that are expected to be non-controversial and approved as a matter of course. The name of the item is ‘Approval of Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Improvements.’ Who can argue with pedestrian, bicycle and traffic improvements? Sounds good. Of the 5 requests in the item there are 2 that I have concerns with.
The first concern I have is a request by a business located on Main Street, outside of the ‘core’ downtown zone, to establish a 24 minute parallel parking space directly in front of their shop. The request state that ‘The owner of the business reports that vehicles often park in that space for long periods of time, thereby limiting easy parking for potential customers.’ The business is a mailing/packing center and while I can appreciate that they may have customers carrying packages to be mailed there is generally always parking in the vicinity of the business even if the space directly in front of the business is occupied. I live and work within 2 blocks of the business in question and walk the block frequently. There are 13 parking spaces in this block (both sides of the street) and the density of businesses is low, certainly not as dense as the central blocks of Main street. This photos shows a typical condition. If your business needs ‘easy parking’ you should probably locate your business in a strip shopping center which tend to have way more parking then they ever use (see black friday parking),
Parallel parking on a public street is public. Approving the request sets up a precedent for all businesses to attempt to ‘reserve’ the space in front of their business for ‘their’ customers. There seems to be a strange assumption by businesses fronting streets that the parking in front of their business is for their customers only. This also extends to residential neighborhoods as well. People often expect to always have the parking in front of their home available for their car, or for someone visiting their house. There is no legal precedent for this. The streets are public, and anyone may park there as long as they are complying with any posted restrictions. It would be silly for the City Council to approve this request, but in fact, they did. Apparently it was pulled from the consent calendar and there was some discussion. But in the end it was approved unanimously.
The second issue is that the City Council was asked to set aside a parking space in the public parking lot closest to city hall for city hall employees. This is arguably the most popular parking lot in town. It is directly behind the primary commercial block of Main Street and adjacent to the library. The lot is small, 43 spaces. While only 1 parking space was requested to be reserved, I don’t think this is wise. Again, it’s a public parking lot and should be reserved for the public.
Several years ago the city removed time restrictions at two underutilized public lots to encourage downtown employees to park at the edge of downtown rather than occupy street parking spaces or spaces in one of the more popular, centrally located downtown lots. The idea being that the popular lots should be available to patrons of downtown businesses. Employees can be asked to walk a little farther. City Hall employees should be setting an example by using the South High Street lot to park in. It’s about 1 1/2 blocks from City Hall (650′ as measured on Google Earth).
Public parking should remain available to the public. We should not be reserving downtown public parking for specific businesses. If private businesses are going to ‘claim’ public parking spaces for their customers or employees, they should be financially responsible for the maintenance of and enforcement of the time limits for those parking spaces.