One of the biggest complaints about urban areas is the lack of parking. This happens even in small towns like Sebastopol. People can get really worked up and possessive about parking. I lived in San Francisco at one time. I get it. Parking can be hard to come by in some places. I used to think it was great if I could find a parking space within 8 blocks of my apartment ans within 20 minutes of looking. It can be frustrating to have to look for a parking space. But most places don’t have San Francisco, or New York or a handful of other cities’ parking problems. Most places in this country have plenty of parking. But there are times when you might have to drive around a few blocks to look for parking in more urban areas. This is one of the things that make them different from suburban strip shopping centers where you can always park at your destination. But it is one of the trade-offs for a better pedestrian realm and close proximity of a variety of businesses.
Downtown Sebastopol has free street parking, and free parking in several city-owned parking lots. There are also some private businesses downtown that have their own parking lots. These tend to be places that are more suburban in their site planning. Places like Rite Aid, Safeway and the Whole Foods shopping center have their own parking lots for their customers. But I guarantee, that being downtown, people park in those lots and visit other destinations. Which makes sense. If you have several errands downtown, and one includes Rite Aid, you aren’t going to move your car after you finish shopping at Rite Aid and drive half a block to go to another business. You just leave your car at Rite Aid and walk. When the CVS development received approval from the city, one of the conditions was that the parking lot (which had about twice as many parking spaces as required by the zoning code) be open to anyone, not only CVS patrons. I think all downtown parking lots should have this condition put on them. You want a big parking lot downtown, you have to share.
The Barlow is a private development on the east edge of downtown Sebastopol. It is a collection of old warehouses, and new warehouse-looking buildings that has a new life as an ‘outdoor market district.’ There are a variety of businesses including retail, restaurants as well as food and beverage producers. It’s taken a few years, but it has become quite popular and has become a destination for locals and visitors alike. Parking at The Barlow includes several surface parking lots and street parking. Some of the street parking is on the adjacent surrounding city streets, and some is on the street which goes through the center of the development, most of which is privately owned, but it was developed to public street standards and has the feel of a public street.
There are several other private businesses located adjacent to The Barlow. The Rialto movie theater is one of them. The Rialto has its own parking lot, part of which is located directly adjacent to The Barlow. The Rialto is very possessive of their parking.
They are a private business with many patrons who drive to see a movie. They don’t want those spaces taken up by people going to The Barlow. They want them saved for their customers. But whose to say their customers don’t also go to the Barlow. Many people combine a trip to the movie theater with dinner. There are several fine restaurants in The Barlow. Do you need to move your car between dinner and a movie because the otherwise the owners of the Rialto will have you towed? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. A variety of destinations within walking distance of each other is one of the draws of urban places. Park once and walk. Moving your car between each destination just makes for more vehicle traffic on our streets and is definitely anti-urban.
What is even more strange to me is that in addition to the sign installed by the Rialto, the City of Sebastopol Police Department installed a sign specifically prohibiting parking for Barlow ‘special events.’
While I can understand, but disagree with, the desire of a business to reserve its parking lot for its customers, I cannot understand the city playing into that. The above sign is at the entrance to a city-owned parking lot. Now this city parking lot happens to be contiguous to the Rialto parking lot. They are literally connected. I’m sure many people assume this lot is part of the Rialto lot, but it is in fact a public lot. The police department also saw fit to install this sign at the entrance to the city lot. I did go to the police department, since it is just across the street from this location, to ask about this sign. The person I spoke with seemed to agree that this sign was in the wrong location and was not trying to prohibit parking in the city lot, which I was concerned about. I had a whole rant prepared about how the city should not be playing preference as to who gets to park in city parking lots. But I guess I don’t need to go there. I’ll go check and see if the sign gets relocated.
But I am still bothered that the city is spending any resources enforcing what is a private parking issue. If the Rialto wants to police people parking in their lot and have them towed if they go someplace else, I suppose that is their business. They do actually have employees sit outside and monitor the parking lot. But we don’t need to spend city resources enforcing that.
I’m also puzzled about the ‘special invent’ nature of this city’s sign. The Barlow has several ‘special’ events that I guess this sign refers to. The second weekend of every month The Barlow is host to the Head West Marketplace street fair. Vendors from around the Bay Area setup in The Barlow for the weekend. Food and Music is also included. It definitely brings visitors to town. And many of them do come by car. Since several of the streets and parking lots in The Barlow are closed for the fair, people need to find other places to park. This public lot is well situated for that event.
The Barlow is also currently the host of Peacetown. Peacetown is a weekly concert that started several years ago and was originally located in Ives Park. Due to the pandemic, there were no Peacetown concerts last year. This year, the city was still concerned about large weekly gatherings in Ives Park, so The Barlow offered to host. This also brings a good number of locals as well as visitors to Sebastopol. And yes, many of them need a place to park and this lot is convenient.
If the Rialto already has a sign prohibiting Barlow parking, I’m not sure why the city also needs a sign specifically calling out the ‘special events.’ Seems like those would be covered by the basic Barlow parking prohibition. It’s also visual clutter. How many no parking signs do we need for one parking lot? But in the end, don’t we have enough parking to go around? There is NEVER a time when all the parking spaces in the image above are occupied. We have an enormous amount of land dedicated to the storage of private automobiles. Can we practice what we learned in kindergarten and share?