There is a bank in downtown Sebastopol that, given the architecture, was probably built in the 1960s.

Not a friendly downtown building.

The bank is on the corner of the main intersection downtown, and is a really horrible downtown building. But that might be a topic for another post. The bank has a parking lot several parcels away from the building. This parking lot is for the almost exclusive use of the bank.

There are a total of 23 parking spaces in this lot, including one accessible space. There are 6 spaces that are reserved for another business, a realtor, that has an office on Main Street. So this bank has 17 dedicated, private parking spaces in the middle of downtown Sebastopol. I cannot imagine there would ever be 17 people in this bank, including employees. Particularly with easy online banking. But there is plenty of signage indicating that this parking is ONLY for bank customers. There isn’t even an exception that would allow parking after banking hours.

No second chance if you get towed.
Customers of the businesses in the adjacent building are not allowed to use this lot.

I wouldn’t imagine that this is enforced much since it’s not even visible from the bank. You would have to post an employee to watch the parking lot and make sure people were ONLY going to the bank. But I have heard of someone being towed from the lot, so I guess it does happen.

Last year I helped several businesses establish parklets downtown. One of the parklets closed off an entire section of street which included 3 parking spaces.

As to be expected, some of the adjacent business owners complained about the loss of parking. One in particular complained quite a bit as her business transitioned to more of a pick-up situation during the pandemic. The city coordinated with the bank to allow 2 of the spaces in the lot to be used for 10 minute loading uses only which is great. So now they are down to 15 dedicated spaces for bank customers.

The city should be doing all it can to discourage the existence of private parking downtown. But unfortunately, the zoning code does require all new construction to provide a minimum number of parking spaces. Most downtowns, like Sebastopol, that were originally built before parking minimums, have buildings that have no dedicated parking spaces. But once zoning codes started requiring parking minimums, we began to see a breakdown of the urban fabric and a proliferation of private parking lots in our downtowns. We could never build a Main Street Sebastopol today that looks like our current Main Street. All those buildings would be required to have their own parking lot, like this bank. But we need to eliminate the requirement for every building to have its own parking lot, particularly downtown. We should be filling in sites like this with more productive development and relegate public parking lots to the periphery of downtown. Rather than require a minimum number of parking spaces for new downtown buildings, we should prohibit the development of private parking lots.

I’m not sure if there is a mechanism to compel the bank to open its parking lot to anyone. A condition of approval for the nearby CVS development was that its oversized parking lot be a public lot, not just for CVS customers. It does not seem to have caused any problems. It doesn’t make sense to have these exclusive lots downtown. If you were planning on visiting several businesses on your downtown trip, and one included the bank, you would not want to have to park in the bank lot, do your banking, and then move your car to another location. The benefit of a downtown commercial district with a variety of businesses in close proximity to each other is that you can park once and walk. But these exclusive private lots discourage that from occurring. This bank consumes a rather large amount of land downtown (I haven’t even mentioned the lot with the drive through – again, a post for another day) without giving much back. It’s time they open their lot to the public and be of a benefit to the downtown community.