One way to address the parking problem is to reduce our dependence on cars.
In tandem with the effort to revisit the parking exclusion zones, I would like to work with businesses within this zone to establish some kind of satellite parking served by a shuttle, which could also be used to provide subsidized "Uber Pool" service. With this service residents can pay a minimal fee (one dollar?) for an on-demand ride between any point within city limits. This shuttle could play an essential role in our transportation infrastructure once the Smart train comes to town, as it would potentially be able to ferry riders from their front door to the depot - and from the depot to the front door of businesses around town.
Of course, cars are not the only way to access downtown. With relatively little money and effort we can do many things to improve bike friendliness of the downtown area. Many bikers know that the currently available bike parking areas are woefully inadequate. We can dramatically improve access simply by installing better bike parking. There are many excellent places for bike parking - the alley between Gold Bloom and the Goat is one; the “tip of the triangle” just south of the Chamber of Commerce building is another. Perhaps two or three spaces in the lot at the corner of Plaza and East can be converted to bike parking, or even a few spaces along the plaza itself.
Car share programs offer an intriguing way to address both the supply of parking and the cost of housing. I would work toward a reasonable and reliable guideline for using community car share lots to mitigate parking space requirements for residential developments. Expanding access to a car share service instead of building parking lots would not only support higher density housing with lower development cost and thereby lower housing costs, it would also eliminate the expense of owning two cars per household.
We can take some simple and inexpensive actions to expand the available supply of parking.
Many downtown businesses have plenty of parking that they only use during weekday working hours. I'd like to work with those property owners to identify ways we can utilize their parking spaces during their off hours. For example, perhaps the Bank of America or Sonoma Cider lots, and even the City Hall lot, can be used for SoFi or H2 valet parking on weeknights, weekends and holidays. This simple action would free up a significant number of spaces in the West Plaza lot, the Cerri Building lot, and Vine Street. Other lots, like the office building lots on Vine between Matheson and North, or the gas station lot at Piper and Healdsburg Ave, could be made available to employees of Plaza businesses during off hours. This “surplus” parking might also be used for a city-wide weekend & evening valet parking service.
I believe it is also time to revisit the downtown "parking exclusion zone," which has allowed businesses within that zone (SoFi is the posterchild example, but they are not the only ones) to expand their businesses without accommodating for their employees’ parking needs.
I also feel we need to have a community conversation about instituting paid parking (3 hours free for locals, of course) within the immediate downtown area. Paid parking would encourage parking outside of the central Plaza area and would help fund the development of new parking infrastructure. However I appreciate the reality that there are very strong feelings about this question - which is why we need to start with a conversation.
What is your plan to bring available downtown parking accessible to residents and not just visitors every day and night of the week?
Some people have said that we don’t have a parking problem - we have a transportation problem. I think there is some truth to that statement, but I would expand it to say we have an “access to downtown” problem - and solving that problem effectively and efficiently will require creative attention to both parking and transportation. Some have said that the easiest solution is the “G Word” option - a multi-story parking garage. However I believe there are many options we can pursue before investing resources into a very expensive and contentious garage project.
I’ll focus my responses within two topics: increasing supply by leveraging existing parking and limiting demand by reducing our dependence on cars.
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Probably the thorniest issue impacting the diversity of downtown businesses is the high cost of rents. If the challenge of managing the price of housing in a capitalist system is difficult, the mere idea of managing commercial rents is almost impossible to fathom - especially from the perspective of what government can or should do.
I would also like to begin a conversation with the community about changing downtown zoning rules to encourage a balanced mix of businesses. If we can prevent, say, head shops or porn shops from opening downtown, perhaps we should consider other restrictions to ensure that downtown business reflect the values of the community. For example, should we tighten the restriction on wine tasting rooms to one per BLOCK, not just block FACE? I've also heard frustration from locals regarding realtor offices, especially since they always seem to be empty - Perhaps we should limiting the number of those businesses as well?
Here’s a really radical idea I’ve heard - How about creating a "Good for Healdsburg" zone type, which would ONLY allow businesses that score high on the "Good for Healdsburg Business Index”? While this idea is intriguing, I highly doubt it would gain any traction among the business and real estate community.
With restrictions like these on the types of businesses that can be located within the downtown zones, we would essentially be reducing DEMAND, which should have a downward pressure on price, which would also help to encourage business diversity. Landlords, of course, would be very unhappy with restrictions like these, so who knows whether we as a community would be able to agree to them.
Finally, with the passage of Measure R, I would push for growth in the SUPPLY of retail space in the form of ground-floor retail units in multi-story downtown housing projects, particularly with spaces that can be configured for specialty “micro” tenants who wouldn’t be burdened with a large rent for space they don’t need.
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Another of my ideas for encouraging a more balanced mix of downtown businesses is the creation of a "Good for Healdsburg Business Index," which would be a numerical rating system that scores businesses on their net beneficial impact to the community.
For example, a business would score well by being locally owned, by employing mostly residents, by giving back to the community, by paying its workers living wages, by proving a significant amount of patronage by locals. This system would be voluntary and the result would be a scorecard that the business can post in their window, much like restaurants currently post their County health inspection results.
Feedback from local business leaders about this idea suggests that a high score would also be an indication of long-term viability for that business. So it is conceivable that, with the right measures, this system could also serve as a guide to business investment in Healdsburg.
What would this index have to do with city government? Theoretically speaking, given that a tax could be considered a way of offsetting negative impacts of a business on the city, you could argue that a HIGH score on this index should mean LOWER taxes for community-friendly businesses. So I would like to investigate revisiting city business taxes based on the results of a similar index.
Parking is a huge issue for businesses that want to strike a balance between serving tourists and locals. A lack of parking will encourage downtown businesses that serve people within easy walking distance - namely, tourists and those who can afford to live nearby.
I don't know how many times I or my family and friends either gave up on giving business to a downtown merchant because I couldn't find a place to park - not to mention the times I didn't even bother trying. I can also say with certainty that good businesses like Levin & Company have noticed a steady downtick in drop-in visits by locals - which is proof that I and my friends are not the only locals avoiding downtown. I’ll respond directly to the parking question with my specific ideas to address this issue.
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What will you do to ensure rents in the core of downtown are affordable for businesses other than those that offer high priced goods and/or are owned by deep pocket interests? How specifically will you find more balanced types of businesses in town and what would you consider to be “more balanced”? What would you change in the design and zoning laws?
These are hugely important questions and I have many thoughts about how to encourage a better balance of downtown businesses. My ideas intersect these questions so rather than answer them individually, I’ll respond to all of the questions with specific topics.
But before I dive into the specific responses, first let me explain what I mean by “balanced.” My slogan says it - “Healdsburg for Everyone.” A balanced Healdsburg is a place where every one of its residents feel like they belong. A balanced community of businesses is one that serves a variety of interests. Will EVERYONE be completely happy? No, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to a Healdsburg for Everyone.
I CAN make the easy general statement that running a small business downtown is difficult enough and the city government should certainly not make life any more difficult or expensive for them. I would love to suggest that the city could give certain types of businesses a break in their utility bill or for other paid services, but that would amount to an illegal subsidy. Perhaps changing to a Charter City would allow us flexibility in implementing these kinds of policies.
So I'll continue my thoughts on individual topics separately.