Friday, December 23, 2005 | Every evening, Bill Herrera skids up to the doors of his condo building on his skateboard. The 32 year old is not some sort of post-teenage adrenaline junkie. He simply resorts to riding his board to and from whatever parking space he can find around La Vita, the Little Italy condo project where he lives.
Herrera is one of the downtown San Diego residents who must scour their neighborhoods looking for scant spaces because of a lack of parking.
With downtown’s population predicted to triple by 2030, city planners have renewed their focus on planning to deal with the area’s parking issues. According to residents and experts, however, they have a lot of catching up to do.
“We’re already paying pretty high prices to live in downtown, there’s no reason they shouldn’t provide us with parking passes,” said Sean Sullivan, who has lived at Treo, a condo project in the Little Italy neighborhood, for a little more than a year.
“I was looking at my checkbook the other day and I had 14 tickets this year,” he added.
Indeed, many downtown residents interviewed said parking tickets, street sweeping schedules and parking meters are the primary annoyances that have accompanied the renaissance of urban living in San Diego. Some condo owners have even resorted to paying extra “rent” for parking spaces in nearby buildings or in outdoor lots close to the buildings where they live.
With more and more parking lots in downtown San Diego giving rise to new condo projects, existing residents are concerned the parking situation is only going to get worse.
Extra parking spaces in Cityfront Terrace, one of San Diego’s most exclusive properties, are currently renting for $250 a month, said manager Barbara Wilkinson. Hummer owners are out of luck, however. Wilkinson said the building’s parking garage, built in the early 90s, doesn’t have enough clearance to house the largest SUVs and trucks.
At La Vita, one of downtown’s newest condo developments, some residents prefer to pay a monthly fee of up to $150 to park at a lot across the street, said Selah Binno, the building’s on-site manager.
Binno lays the blame for downtown’s parking problem at the feet of developers and politicians. He said developers will only build what they have to, and that current building codes only insist they provide one-half of a parking space per condo for units like his. That, combined with a lack of alternative parking provided by the city, makes finding parking a major irritation for residents, Binno said.
“You’ll see people pull up to the building, unload all their groceries, drop of their family and then they go and park a few blocks away,” he said.
Catherine Herbst, associate chair of architecture at San Diego’s Woodbury University, said despite the official requirement of 0.5 parking spaces per unit, most condos are built with at least one space per property. Usually, architects provide for one space per bedroom, she said.
Herbst said urban parking problems must be considered in conjunction with other factors such as the availability of public transportation. If a city center is too crowded with cars, she said, it is probably because the public transport network is inadequate. She compared San Diego to New York City, where a transit workers strike recently caused chaos.
“Right now, that city’s paralyzed without transportation,” Herbst said. “If public transportation went down in San Diego, all it would hurt is the people on the bottom of the scales.”
The Center City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, appears to agree with Herbst’s reasoning. The city’s latest community plan deals with parking in a section dealing with transportation, and the document
The community plan suggests a future expansion of trolley services and the introduction of Bus Rapid Transport services. It details suggested routes for such services and also emphasizes the need for the city to encourage residents to travel between parts of downtown under their own steam.
“As industrial areas will be transformed into neighborhoods, streets will be improved to emphasize walking and bicycling,” reads the document.
Derek Danziger, a spokesman for the CCDC, said there are enough parking spaces in San Diego for the estimated 27,500 people who live there. He said parking lots and street parking are typically under-utilized by residents.
“There’s more than 60,000 parking spaces that exist in downtown right now,” said Danziger. “… There’s a reluctance on people to want to pay to park. We grew up in a suburban model where you pull into the spot in front of the store you want to go into.”
Danziger said the city has added two new parking structures in the last two years and has also recently set parking meter limits in some areas at 4 hours or 9 hours, an increase from previous 2-hour limits. The new parking limits will be in place for a test period and, if results in the test areas prove positive, Danziger said, the increased time limits may be introduced elsewhere in downtown.
The CCDC has estimated that the downtown population will increase to 90,000 by 2030. Already, Danziger said, about 75,000 people work in downtown, and that number is likely to increase to 165,000 in the next 25 years.
Unless something drastic is done to provide more parking spaces or better transportation, Herbst said, things are only going to get worse for residents like Anand Rajani, who also lives in La Vita. Looking across the street from his condo building on Cedar Street on Thursday, Rajani gestured at the two construction sites within a block of his front door.
“There were all these parking lots, and they’re all being obliterated,” he said. “It’s already impossible to park, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
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