Drive into downtown Pleasanton most Thursday and Friday nights or on Saturday and search for a parking space. Often it means parking a block away from your destination.
Merchants and restaurant owners complained to the City Council last week that they're losing business because shoppers and diners find that distance is just too far. Property owners, hearing complaints from their business tenants, complained that drivers are parking their cars in the many small merchant-assigned private parking areas behind those stores.
It's a dilemma that's faced downtown businesses, mostly those on Main Street, for years. On those busy nights, particularly in the spring and summer when the weather is good, it's hard to find a parking spot. And it's getting worse in this period of economic expansion with new shops, coffee houses and restaurants opening on south and north Main and in between where off-street parking had been readily available.
Acknowledging the growing problem, the council created an Implementation Plan to consider short- and long-term strategies that could include a downtown parking structure and completion of the $7.5 million railroad corridor that the city purchased in 2008 from Alameda County with then-available in-lieu parking funds and an appropriation from the city's General Fund.
Only about two-thirds of that right-of-way, located between Main and First streets, is fully improved. Even so, except for farmers market and downtown events, the corridor lots are seldom full. Space for motorists headed to restaurants and stores on Main Street is also available most times in the Firehouse Arts Center lot, just a block away.
Other options are available. Last year, parking limits on Main and some side streets were increased from two to three hours. City police, who know how to enforce the rules, could be more aggressive in ticketing scofflaws. But is that what downtown businesses want? Someone who parks to shop and then meets friends in a nearby restaurant for lunch and receives a parking ticket may choose another city the next time.
Motorists who park illegally in a store's private lot could be towed away at the car owner's expense. Property and business owners, who would face liabilities if there were damages, aren't doing that.
Even with the council agreeing to quick-start a work plan to improve downtown parking, the crowd of merchants, property owners and representatives of the Pleasanton Downtown Association left the meeting frustrated. They want a faster response than the Implementation Plan will provide, when its first draft is completed next spring. Other cities have parking structures that are highly visible to motorists searching for a space, and they want one built here, too.
Parking garages are expensive and so are off-street lots, as the cost of the railroad corridor showed. Everyone's priority should be to develop a clear vision about what's needed so that taxpayers' money used to provide more parking will be used efficiently.
With business "sizzling," as the PDA likes to say, a variety of parking solutions are no doubt needed over the long-term. The Implementation Plan's holistic approach to encompass the whole problem moving forward will make that call.