Panel Recommends Raising Downtown Parking Fees

By Richard Brenneman
Friday September 22, 2006

Berkeley should be ready to boost downtown parking prices for a host of reasons, declared members of the panel charged with developing a new plan for downtown Berkeley Wednesday night. 

Following up on a joint meeting earlier this month with the city Transportation Commission, members of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) endorsed recommendations by a UCLA professor and added a few of their own. 

UCLA planning Professor Donald Shoup recommended setting higher on-street meter parking prices to discourage cruising for parking spots, as well as adopting flexible parking rates that would change at different times of the day. 

Additional revenues raised could be used to fund improvements in the city center (possibly through the Downtown Berkeley Association), to provide incentives for walking, bicycling and using public transit, and to discourage shoppers form parking in surrounding residential neighborhoods. 

Other suggestions included: 

• Pricing eight-hour parking at least 20 percent higher than the most distant round trip BART fare to Berkeley; 

• Eliminating monthly parking permits at the Center Street garage to free up more spaces for short-term parking; 

• Keeping meter prices at least as high as rates for garage parking; 

• Implementation of discount transit pass programs for employees of downtown businesses; 

• Adding new payment technology, including a system to discourage meter-feeding by downtown employees. 

The vote was non-binding, what one member described as a straw poll. 

“I’m really asking to give downtown stakeholders, the business district, a say in how the parking revenues are spent,” said former City Councilmember Mim Hawley. 

“I would support that if a portion went to transportation services,” said Wendy Alfsen. 

Transportation Commissioner Rob Wrenn said that despite frequent complaints, there is always plenty of parking available downtown—and he offered to accompany any skeptical DAPAC members at peak hours to prove his case. 


Emerging vision 

As DAPAC nears the end of its first year, a vague outline of the shape of the new plan is starting to emerge—though the devil remains in details yet to be articulated. 

The committee was formed as a condition of the settlement of a suit the city filed challenging UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan through 2020. 

The settlement spelled out a downtown area enlarged beyond the boundaries of the city’s existing downtown plan.  

Members spent most of Wednesday night’s meeting discussing a compilation of their own visions for the downtown, defining areas of both agreement and tension. 

Matt Taecker, the planner hired to help draft the plan, asked DAPAC members to submit statements of their visions for the downtown, and 12 of the group’s 21 City Council and Planning Commission appointees and UC Berkeley’s three ex officio members and two official representatives complied. 

Working with the statements, Planning Director Marks and Taecker drafted a 19 page report, distilling the results into a one-paragraph consensus statement: 

“An economically vital ‘green downtown’ that is the heart of the city, is based on sustainable development practices, celebrates and conserves its historic roots, is oriented towards pedestrians with plazas, tree-lined streets and other amenities and is accessible to all segments of the community. Downtown is also a high-density residential neighborhood in its own right, with a highly diverse housing stock serving all segments of the community, with safe streets and supporting services.” 

Planning Commission Chair Helen Burke faulted the document for failing to include a recommendation by her commission’s Hotel Task Force to create a pedestrian plaza along Center Street between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue. 

Environmentalist Juliet Lamont said the report should give environmental sustainability at least as much weight as economic viability. 

Retired UC Berkeley administrator Dorothy Walker said there’d be no money for environmental programs without increased economic vitality.  

“We can’t have a green downtown unless we have economic development,” said Hawley. 

Berkeley High School Safety Officer Billy Keys said more emphasis was needed on diversity, and attracting people of all backgrounds to participate in the downtown. 

“Transit is missing as a clear cut goal,” said Wrenn. 

Patti Dacey said the document needed to emphasize that there is no inherent conflict between the goals of sustainable development and protection of the area’s historic buildings. 

Steve Weissman said the report failed to stress the need to create a sense of place, a quality that attracts people to the downtown and makes them want to spend time there. 

Themes and scenarios will continue to dominate the committee’s agenda, with a session on preliminary scenarios scheduled for Oct. 4, and a revisit to themes and scenarios on Nov. 1. 

A preliminary draft of the plan is still months away, with a final draft due to the City Council in November, 2007. 

The full report as well as other documents generated in the planning process are available on DAPAC’s web site at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/planning/landuse/dap/reports.htm