Monday, February 27, 2012

Parking at Santa Rosa Plaza

Continuing on the subject of parking, today I want to look at a situation in Santa Rosa, a few miles north of where I live.  Strictly speaking, it isn’t a new urbanism issue, but it illuminates some of the parking controversies that will likely swirl around new urbanism.

The Simon Property Group is the owner of Santa Rosa Plaza, a conventional enclosed mall on the edge of downtown Santa Rosa.  Since the mall was built in the late 1970s, the downtown has regained momentum, perhaps assisted by the presence of the mall.  Also, the historic Railroad Square, on the other side of the mall from downtown, has undergone a major rebirth.

As a result of this economic growth around the mall, approximately 400 drivers leave their cars each day in the mall garages while they work or shop in downtown or Railroad Square.  They have no intention of visiting the mall, but happily avail themselves of the free parking at the mall.  It’s not a surprising result.  It could have been predicted based on the evolving land uses and the history of free parking in the U.S.

The mall has 3,000 parking places, so the loss of 400 places isn’t an immediate concern.  But the outside cars may take the better parking places.  Also, Simon wishes to establish rules now about the outside parking, before the situation becomes critical.

Last week, Simon rolled out their proposal.   The first 90 minutes of parking will remain free.  After that, parking charges are incurred, up to $9 for all day.  The rates are slightly more that the rates at nearby municipal garages.

I’ll make a small statistical quibble with the parking fees.  The Simon spokesperson noted that the average shopper is in the mall for 68 minutes, so won’t be affected by the charge.  That determination ignores that fact that the “average shopper” is an abstraction.  If the length of the average shopping visit is 68 minutes, then a fair number of shoppers, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, are there longer than 90 minutes.  I’d want to see more data on the length of visits, but suspect that I’d argue for at least two hours of free parking.

Setting that quibble aside, the overall policy seems reasonable and just.  Nor do I think that Simon is making the change to enhance revenues.   I suspect that Simon won’t receive any net revenue from the parking charges.  Instead, the collected fees will be an approximate match for the costs of the new gates and the wages of the gate tenders.  So, Simon is doing little more than enforcing their property rights against changes occurring due to an improved downtown economy.  I have no problem with that.

However, there a second issue that complicates the situation.  With the mall sitting astride the path between downtown and Railroad Square, there is a pedestrian connectivity problem.  When the mall is closed, connectivity is inconvenient and potentially unsafe.  Simon and the City are aware of the problem.  Simon has agreed to propose a solution, although they seem reluctant to move quickly.

The Santa Rosa Design Review Board tried to force Simon to deal with connectivity as a condition of other improvements that Simon was proposing.  City Hall didn’t agree with that approach and slapped some hands on the Design Review Board.  Simon continues to promise progress on connectivity but hasn’t come forward with solutions, even while seeking relief on parking.

Here’s my take.  If you have a business in a downtown location and are benefiting from increasing downtown economic activity, good for you.  If you’re also seeking protection from the untoward effects of the downtown vitality, that’s fine.  But when if you act like you can duck the responsibility for untoward effects you’re putting on downtown, you’ve lost my sympathy.  The Santa Rosa newspaper feels the same way.

I don’t know if the connectivity issue can be linked to the parking charges.  I’m sure there are attorneys willing to argue it at length.  But from a perspective of basic fairness to the community, they should be linked.

As I noted above, the Santa Rosa Plaza parking issues are isn’t really a new urbanism problem.  But they’re indicative of the type of concerns that will arise as new urbanism makes further gains.  Our goals as community members should be to have a clear-eyed understanding of the role of parking and to be ready and willing to implement solutions that don’t unfairly impede new urbanism.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

No comments:

Post a Comment