Parking management in Downtown Stockton is overdue for much needed upgrades according to a recent review by city-hired parking consultant Kimley Horn and Associates (KHA). The report, “Parking Program Operations and Organizational Assessment,” catalogs many of the challenges the current Central Parking District faces in the wake of Stockton’s bankruptcy and limited revenue and staffing options.
Many recommended fixes are straightforward, at least conceptually – such as modernizing outdated, old equipment – but other recommendations speak to a more difficult problem, that of fostering communication and trust among the city and key downtown players.
According to KHA, there are approximately six-thousand parking spaces within the downtown area – a mix of metered on-street spots, surface lots and garages. All are plagued with maintenance and operations issues that typically cost more to deal with than what they bring in. 1,700 of the spots alone involve manual coin collection – overseen by the city’s police department. An upgrade to modern on street collection technology (i.e. meters that accept credit card, mobile phone collection, etc.) can result in a 25% to 30% increase in total revenues, according to KHA.
Per the report, most of these issues are attributable to a systemic lack of professional understanding regarding how a focused parking strategy can support broader economic and community development.
“Limited industry knowledge beyond their (city staff) local experience is tactically focused almost on exclusively on day-to-day operation,” read the report, “One of the single biggest challenges faced by the current parking program is the lack of a strong, knowledgeable parking professional to lead the department.”
Granted, given the city’s fiscal situation, there hasn’t been much staff support to spare on the downtown parking situation let alone to think abstractly about how to integrate the current system in such a way as to be complimentary to broader economic goals. But as Stockton begins to amend its now largely-irrelevant general plan, coupled with a downtown specific plan, there appears to be energy to spare.
As mentioned, many of the recommendations outlined in the report were pretty straightforward: hiring a parking program administrator, creating a new parking authority to oversee day-to-day operations, updating nearly all of the current meter technology, even investing more heavily in local transit which “is far cheaper than building additional parking.” However, the perceived lack of trust between the city and downtown stakeholders made numerous appearances in the report’s “issues” list.
“There is a tangible lack of trust as it relates to how district parking assessments have been and are being used,” read one statement within the report.
“Intra-departmental and external communications, especially to key stakeholder groups, seemed limited and strained,” read another.
The report was accompanied by a presentation held last Thursday by KHA to city officials and downtown stakeholders. During the presentation, the consultants suggested that some strategies to alleviate parking issues could be implemented rather easily. For example, the consultant recommended granting free parking for all visitors for their first hour in all downtown parking garages, noting that a similar strategy in Lincoln, Nebraska was vital in turning that city’s downtown into a thriving urban center.
If any of the recommendations are to be implemented – particularly the suggested 50-cent-per-hour meter increase – it’s important to start with rebuilding needed relationships between businesses, individuals and the city that have evidently been left to languish.
An effective parking strategy can do wonders for downtowns. By pricing parking correctly, municipalities ensure that spots turnover frequently – good for local businesses – and are always available (even if it takes a few circles of the block, or results in customers having to walk an extra block or two) but local businesses can’t know that unless there’s an authority they trust to explain how parking management can work.
The report carries no real weight. Ultimately it’s up to the city to decide when and how they’ll start addressing parking issues downtown, but the public can weigh in. The next General Plan meeting – 6 p.m. Thursday, August 28 at City Hall – will be addressing transportation issues. Learn more here.
David Garcia also contributed to this report