Rethinking Parking this week in Oakland

So, as I mentioned yesterday, the most interesting item on the City Council Committee agendas was the Community and Economic Development Committee’s discussion of the City’s follow-up to the aggressively unflattering Alameda County Grand Jury report about Oakland’s Building Services division.

I wasn’t able to attend the meeting in person, but I rushed to download the video the second I got home last night because I had heard a rumor that some reporter had tried to attack Jane Brunner during the meeting and had to be dragged out in handcuffs or something. Not often you see that kind of excitement in City Council meetings!

I have to confess that I was a tiny bit disappointed when I got to watch the video, since it turned out that I had gotten a somewhat exaggerated account of the event, and the fireworks weren’t quite as dramatic as I had been led to believe. Still, I’m sure that if you were in the room, it would have felt pretty intense.

Other than that, the discussion was…well, for now I’ll just leave it at unsatisfying. I’ll write more later in the week, but for those who just can’t wait, you can view all the video from the Building Services item at yesterday’s meeting here.

In other news, as you may have read on Living in the O yesterday, this is an exciting week for Oaklanders interested in parking issues. Which is everyone, right?

Parking! Workshop on Thursday

If you are on any kind of City email list or neighborhood listserv, you have probably gotten like six thousand copies of this message in the last month:

The City of Oakland is updating its off-street parking regulations. The City’s off-street parking regulations have not been comprehensively updated since 1965 and need to be updated to be consistent with current City policies. This introductory workshop is the first step in the process of updating the City’s off-street parking regulations.

Come and learn about off-street parking and provide feedback on what should be considered during the parking update process. The City will not be presenting any new regulations at this community workshop. Proposed new regulations will be presented at future public meetings.

What will be discussed?

  • Overview of off-street parking update project
  • Parking in Oakland
  • Break out stations to discuss and get feedback on specific issues
  • Open question and comment period at the end of the meeting

The Community Workshop will focus on parking that is located on private or public property off City streets. Parking that is on public streets will not be the focus of this process.

Here’s the flyer for the meeting (PDF).

And if you’re anything like most of the people who’ve asked me about this message, you don’t have the faintest idea what it means, why it is happening, or if this is some evil conspiracy on the part of the Planning Department to stick parking lots on every available surface in the city.

You might have looked for information on the City’s website, which does offer a page on devoted to the parking regulations update, but if you did that, you were most likely disappointed, since the page doesn’t actually contain any information. Presumably that will be remedied at some point in the future.

And if you pay even a little bit of attention to planning issues in Oakland, you might have thought “Wait, didn’t we just update our zoning code? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to deal with parking requirements during that process?” A cynical person might answer that yes, it would have made sense to do it then and by dragging it out into a whole separate process staff is just creating make-work to justify the continued existence of their jobs.

Off-Street Parking

So, what is off-street parking? Basically, it’s parking that isn’t on the street. So, not the metered spaces you pull into in front of a store or whatever. It’s surface lots and garages.

The City’s off-street parking requirements are the portion of the Planning Code that tells you how many parking spaces you need to provide for any specific use. This is where you would look to learn that you need to provide, for example, one parking space for every 300 square feet of floor area at your fast food restaurant in one zone, or one space for every 450 square feet in some other zone. Or that you need one parking space for every three employees at your car dealership, or one parking space per unit in your new condo building.

You can read the city’s current off-street parking regulations here (PDF).

The off-street parking portion of the Planning Code also explains things like how big off-street parking spaces need to be, where they can be located, how you know when the parking requirements apply to your building or business, and how to know when your parking requirements change. Well, “explains” might be a little generous:

If any facility, or portion thereof, which is in existence on the effective date of the zoning regulations, or of a subsequent rezoning or other amendment thereto establishing or increasing parking or loading requirements for an activity therein, is altered or changed in occupancy so as to result in an increase in the number of residential living units therein, new off-street parking as prescribed hereafter shall be provided for the added units. However, such new parking need be provided only in the amount by which the requirement prescribed hereafter for the facility after said alteration or change exceeds the requirement prescribed hereafter for the facility as it existed prior to such alteration or change; and such new parking need not be provided to the extent that existing parking exceeds the latter requirement.

So now you might be thinking that this all sounds really boring. But I’m promise it isn’t! It is actually really important. Reductions in the required number of parking spaces in multi-unit development can help lower the cost of construction, and encouraging more (and also more transit-oriented) development. Off-street parking regulations also specify requirements for things like screening and lighting off-street parking lots, both of which have public safety implications.

It’s really easy to forget sometimes just how much space parking spaces take up. And every space used for storing cars is space that is not being used for housing or for recreation or for a patio or for open space or for a water fountain or a shop or any of all the things in the world you can do with a space besides sometimes putting a car there. For a pretty striking example of other ways some of this space might be used, take a trip over to The Trappist in Old Oakland and check out their awesome outdoor patio. Three parking spaces had to be removed to make it. Was it worth it?

Sensible parking requirements don’t mandate the creation of any more spaces than are necessary. You want enough not to cause terrible problems, but not so many that you’re wasting space on parking spots that sit perpetually empty. Sometimes, parking requirements will include a maximum number of spaces you can build for any specific use. Rules like these help to encourage more transit-sensitive development and also encourages us to use the limited amount space we have in more productive ways.

So if you weren’t planning on attending because you didn’t really understand what it was about, or because you thought it sounding boring or whatever, I hope you’ll reconsider. The meeting will take place tomorrow, Thursday, September 15th at the Oakland Main Library in the Bradley Walters Community Room (downstairs in the basement) from 6 to 8 pm.

I look forward to seeing a good crowd there! And hey, since you’ll be at the library anyway, why not arrive a little early and head upstairs to the Oakland History Room, where they will be holding a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 highlighting the new History Room exhibit, Remembering and Rebuilding: A Commemoration of the Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm.

Park(ing) Day on Friday

So even if you aren’t going to the meeting, I hope you’ve at least started thinking about how much space we devote to parking. Conveniently, this Friday offers another opportunity to consider the subject.

On Park(ing) Day, held once a year, people rent on-street parking spaces, but instead of using them to store cars all day, they use them for more pleasant and inviting activities. For some examples, check out these photos Becks posted on Living in the O on Park(ing) Day a few years ago.

I was thrilled when I heard how many different locations will be participating in Park(ing) Day in Oakland this year. WOBO has a map of all of them on their website, and you can hit six of them with just a quick stroll downtown. Start at Farley’s on Grand, just off Broadway, then head straight down Broadway where there will be another one at 21st. Take a little detour onto Telegraph to hit the Marquee Lofts at 18th St, then once you hit 17th, go back to Broadway where PGA Design will be offering s’mores! Walk down Broadway a couple block more to see parklet in front of the new Oaklandish store, and then finish your tour at the Transform parklet, on 14th just off Broadway.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Parking this week in Oakland

  1. Max Allstadt

    One thing I think it really important to remember about the people protesting CEDA: they sometimes seem unhinged, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in the right about the abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of Oakland’s government.

    Getting screwed over by powerful people can make you crazy. Some of Building Services’ victims have been fighting for years, and it’s been a terrible uphill battle. It’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt and considering every piece of evidence they present, no matter how angry they get. They have reason to be angry.

  2. LeavingOakland

    Getting screwed by powerful people and then having everyone around you think you must have done something to deserve it, because the government cannot possibly be corrupt, that will make you REALLY crazy! It took a Grand Jury report to get all of my friends and family to finally believe what was going on. The city council still doesn’t get it, just like after the last Grand Jury report.

    These people finally had a day to be heard… Kind of. I chose not to speak at either meeting because I know the city council is not listening. Haven’t been for at least 10 years since the last grand jury report came out.

    I’m pretty disgusted after the committee meeting last week and city council meeting last night. I mean it really should be no surprise, but I guess Oakland hasn’t quite killed what little hope I have left. I dunno, maybe it died last night in city council chambers. Maybe I had to waste 3 hours of my life being lied to by the city council and watch them chat and laugh while 80-something year old people talked about losing their homes to city bulldozers before I realized that this city is beyond redemption.

    I am embarrassed to admit I was born in Oakland. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve spent money in this city, lived in this city, ever thought of this city as home. Never again will I call Oakland home.

  3. Bull-Dozer

    I think its sick that issues like corrupt policy makers and symptoms of neglect and systemic exploitation of an impoverished community, like the ones that are in central orbit around this article, are being re-worked by the writer of this article into an issue like ‘Where to Park?’
    For anyone familiar with the reality or the facts, this article (as one of the few even highlighting these sessions) is so shortsighted on the real issues facing this community that I am too sick to not attempt to draw attention to this particular revulsion.
    Forget where to park, people for a ‘A better Oakland,’ better think about the hostility you face when you begin to pave parking lots over peoples homes.