Looking for a solution to the problem – parking – that has plagued the planning for the proposed Del Monte warehouse project approved by the Planning Board last Monday? You’ve come to the right place.
The Planning Board and City staff are quite proud of the “parking management” aspect of the overall transportation demand management plan for “mitigating” the traffic impacts generated by the development. In fact, they think that, with a few tweaks, they’ve got it just right.
Under their plan, the Del Monte project will provide 415 on-site parking spaces for the 308 housing units in the main warehouse building – 326 of them indoors in a garage, 86 outdoors next to the building, and three car-share spaces. These parking spaces won’t be included in the price of a condo or an apartment; they’ll be sold (or leased) separately – $30,000 apiece for the garage parking spaces and $20,000 apiece for the outdoor spaces.
But the neighborhood – or at least the 200 people who signed a petition presented to the Board – thinks this plan spells disaster. They maintain that it provides too few on-site parking spaces for the number of new residents. Moreover, they question how many townhouse or condo buyers will be willing to plunk down another $20,000 or $30,000 for a parking space. The inevitable result, they say, is that their already overcrowded streets will become even more congested with an overflow of cars from the Del Monte project.
If we were sitting on the current City Council, or “facilitating” some kind of “community process,” we’d look for compromise on this issue. 415 parking spaces too few? Will you take 450, Ms. Greene? Yes? OK by you, David and John (we’re sure Mike and Stan will go along)?
But the Merry-Go-Round has a more radical suggestion.
As it happens, we just finished reading the sequel to Cass Sunstein’s book, “Nudge,” which coined the phrase “libertarian paternalism.” Essentially, Professor Sunstein argues that government doesn’t need to coerce people into behaving in the way the cognoscenti – or, as we like to call them, the Inner Ring – think is best for them. Instead, it can achieve the same result through what he calls “choice architecture,” by setting a “default choice” that leads to the desired outcome and requiring people to “opt out” if they want something else.
So let’s play “choice architect” and apply “libertarian paternalism” to the Del Monte parking problem.
Rather than try to pick a number of on-site parking spaces acceptable to both sides, we’ll make the default choice simple. It’s “none.” That’s right: The Del Monte project will provide no on-site parking for new residents whatsoever. But we’ll also offer an opt-out. Parking reserved for Del Monte residents will be available – for a price – at a site located outside the adjacent neighborhood.
So if you want to buy or rent a unit in the Del Monte warehouse, you can keep your car (if you have one); you just can’t park it at the building or anywhere nearby.
This proposal – we’ll call it the Sunstein Plan – will achieve the planners’ goals for the TDM program. At the same time, it won’t impose any undue burden on the neighborhood. Not convinced? Let us walk you through it.
The default choice – no on-site parking – simply takes the theory underlying parking management to its logical extreme.
For those of you who’ve never worked for TransForm or perused papers published by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, here’s how it goes: By limiting the supply, and “unbundling” the cost, of on-site parking, we can discourage new residents from owning cars. The fewer cars they own, the fewer “vehicle trips” they’ll take. And the fewer trips they take, the less traffic congestion they’ll cause and the lower level of greenhouse gases they’ll generate.
But if supply limits and “unbundling” will discourage automobile ownership and thereby yield all of these benefits, why won’t total elimination of on on-site parking produce an even more salutary outcome? If on-site parking isn’t available, the Del Monte project will appeal directly to people who don’t own a car or who would like to get rid of the one they have. A building without parking would become a building without cars. And no cars means no trips, no traffic congestion, no greenhouse gases – and no overflow onto neighboring streets.
Can we – or, more importantly, the developer, Tim Lewis Communities – really be sure that people fitting the target profile will clamor to buy or rent all 414 housing units in the Del Monte project? Why, of course.
Our own City Planner Andrew Thomas and Planning Board member Kristoffer Koster have given personal testimony supporting that conclusion. “When I was 16, I wanted that license and I wanted a car to go with it,” Mr. Thomas told the Planning Board last September. “The younger generation, yeah, they may pick up a license but they’re not rushing out to buy a car. That’s part of the solution as we look forward.” Or as Mr. Koster put it: “I’m probably the youngest member on this Board, and my friends are all riding transit these days. The average price for a car is $30,000 for a new car, so it’s getting more expensive and it’s not going to be feasible in the future.”
But we don’t need to rely just on our hometown experts. No less an authority that The Daily Beast shares their view. “Recent studies,” it reported, “have shown a significant drop-off in the number of Americans, particularly young people, who engage in that most iconic American pursuit: owning and driving cars.” Even Time Magazine agrees: “Studies have shown that fewer young adults have driver’s licenses, that this group hates the traditional car-buying process more than other demographics, and that they prefer urban living and socializing online and therefore have less need for cars.”
If we trust these sources, the “no on-site parking” feature will attract so many auto-averse buyers or renters that the Del Monte residential development will be car-free by choice. But, remember, we’re hedging our bets by offering an opt-out. If a prospective Del Monte resident truly wants to keep her car, we’ll provide her with off-site parking – but at a site far away from the Del Monte neighborhood.
We have the perfect site in mind: Alameda Point!
Get a map and take a look at the northeast corner of the 510 acres of the former Naval Air Station already transferred to the City by the Navy. Or, better yet, talk to that woman who rides her blue adult tricycle out there every day. About 34 acres in this area are devoted to low-income housing overseen by the Alameda Point Collaborative, but a vast amount of land remains unused.
What better place for a huge parking lot? Since a lot of the property already is covered in concrete, construction costs will be minimal. And talk about location! Right next to the entryway to the Point, with easy access to the new Waterfront Town Center with its “world class” restaurants and shops.
True, our Alameda Point parking lot is not exactly close to the Del Monte warehouse. But the City is committed to building the “cross-Alameda trail” for bicyclists and pedestrians from Alameda Point through the Jean Sweeney Park to the Alaska Basin. So once a Del Monte resident parks in our lot, she can just put on her walking shoes or get on her bike and head for home.
Under a pure version of libertarian paternalism, the opt-out choice is cost-less. But if we’ve learned anything from the TDM advocates, it’s that parking is never free – and if you let the booboisie think it is, they’ll never get out of their cars. So we’re going to have to charge for parking in the lot.
How much? We could argue that, because we’re enabling the drivers to get exercise on their way home, we’d be justified in charging even more for our Alameda Point lot than Tim Lewis is planning to charge for indoor or outside on-site parking. But let’s not get greedy: we’ll split the difference and sell spaces in the lot for only $25,000 per space (payable to the City of Alameda).
If the Sunstein Plan works, it will produce, through shrewd choice architecture, the outcome both the planners and the neighbors desire: No additional cars at, or anywhere near, the Del Monte project. But will it work? The Merry-Go-Round may not have the same confidence in the Sunstein Plan that the Inner Ring has in the TDM concept. But our plan is named after a Harvard Law School professor.
Alas, we realize there still may be troglodytes who refuse to accept assurances like Mr. Thomas’s that TDM “can work and will work” because it “has and does work in other cities in this country.” These people probably don’t believe in evolution or global warming, either.
But there are also the cynics, who remain skeptical of strategies dependent on changing human behavior and demand to know: What about the cheaters – i.e., the prospective Del Monte residents who say they don’t have a car but really do? Or the people – still hopelessly addicted to the automobile – who say they’ll use our Alameda Point parking lot and then don’t? Under the Sunstein Plan, where are these lowlifes going to park?
We know the answer we’ll get from the residents along Benton, Morton and Sherman Streets: They’re going to park on the street in our neighborhood! And that will make life miserable for us – the folks who already live here!
Unfortunately, we now have to leave Professor Sunstein behind and resort to a more traditional approach. We’ll handle the issue of street parking in the way an activist government knows best: We’ll regulate it.
Taking up a suggestion made in one of those VTPI articles, we’ll designate the area within a one-mile radius of the Del Monte warehouse a “Parking Benefit District.” Every licensed driver residing in this area will be offered a parking sticker she can slap on her car. (But only one to a customer. Forget about having a commute car and a weekend car). We might even give away the stickers for free.
Then, in the same one-mile radius, we’ll ban all on-street parking except for cars with a sticker, and we’ll rigorously enforce the law. (To make sure Council approves this part of the proposal, enforcement responsibility will be assigned, not to the police department, but to the fire department. Ms. Raff will apply for a federal grant to hire “automobile fire prevention specialists” who, in addition to looking for cars with smoking engine blocks, will check them for stickers). Break the ban once, and you’ll pay a fine. Do it again and you’ll go to jail.
So is everybody happy now?
The Planning Board and City staff should be happy. They can boast of having made the Del Monte warehouse project the first “parking-free environment” anywhere in the country.
City Manager John Russo should be happy. He can brag about having found new revenue sources – the parking lot fees and the parking fines – to fill the gap in the General Fund budget.
The politicians should be happy. The Sunstein Plan allows Mayor Marie Gilmore to curry favor with two of her key constituencies. It’s a profit-maker for the developer, since it saves Tim Lewis the cost of building a below-grade parking garage on the Del Monte site. And it’s a job-creator for IAFF Local 689, since it establishes a new specialty that surely will need to continue even after the original grant runs out.
In fact, the only group that still might complain is composed of the neighborhood residents who came together to form “PLAN! Alameda.” Having read their Facebook page, we’re afraid that they’ll greet the Sunstein Plan with the same derision they’ve displayed toward the – far less creative – TDM plans previously pushed by City staff.
But why would anyone at City Hall listen to them? As far as we know, PLAN Alameda! hasn’t formed a PAC, and it won’t be able to drop a $10,000 contribution to a favored candidate’s kitty at the last minute. And don’t tell anybody, but we suspect a lot of these people are going to vote for Trish Spencer anyway.
Del Monte master plan: 2014-09-22 Ex. 2b to staff report to PB – Del Monte master plan
Del Monte TDM plan: 2014-09-22 Ex. 4b to staff report to PB – Del Monte TDM plan
Staff report re Del Monte project: 2014-09-22 staff report to PB re Del Monte
VTPI on-line encylcopedia (parking management): Online TDM Encyclopedia – Parking Management
Cass R. Sunstein, “Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism” (Yale University Press, 2014)
Cass R. Sustein and Thaler, Richard H., “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (Yale University Press, 2008)