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Parking in downtown Napa

A report based on a June survey of parking areas in downtown Napa includes recommendations for the city to make more efficient use of its supply.

In smoothing out parking patterns downtown, Napa should first make better use of what assets it already has before setting its ambitions higher.

Such was the conclusion of a consultant helping Napa map parking patterns in a city core made increasingly busy by restaurants, wine tasting rooms, shops and hotels. In presenting a survey of downtown parking – the first of its kind in three years – Julie Dixon joined city officials in calling for a fresh look at parking enforcement, directional signs, time limits, and the distribution of all-day spaces that could accommodate downtown workers but often go underused even as other lots fill up quickly.

The discussion may herald a reboot of Napa’s efforts to prepare for increasing parking demand in its business district, but also may mark at least a temporary break from more ambitious talks – so far unrealized – to install paid parking or raise another downtown garage for 300 or more vehicles. Sharing her study with the City Council on Tuesday afternoon, Dixon urged better and smarter use of Napa’s existing supply.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the parking challenge we face today in Napa,” she told councilmembers.

Dixon’s presentation followed her firm’s release of a study, sponsored by the city’s parking manager Tony Valadez, that was based on two Thursday afternoon surveys taken downtown in June.

Occupancy increased at five city parking areas, and at least 85 percent of slots were taken at nine facilities, San Diego-based Dixon Resource Unlimited wrote. The report also noted a 37 percent decline in parking citations from the 2013-14 fiscal year to 2017-18, dropping to 5,485 tickets from 8,684, which Dixon said may be the result of thin enforcement staffing encouraging drivers to exceed time limits – particularly on weekends when parking officers are off duty.

While crowding is the problem at some lots – and especially for coveted curbside spaces – other facilities languish by comparison. Dixon pointed to the Pearl Street garage as a prime example, as it was filled to less than half its capacity on both days of the June survey.

Possible steps suggested by Dixon include better signage to point drivers toward garages and lots, as well as signs at garages to show whether or not spaces are still open. To better track those overstaying parking time limits, Napa also may consider reviving the use of license-plate recognition scanners, which it dropped about four years ago.

In addition, she added, Napa could reduce congestion on curbsides by prohibiting “re-parking” or hopscotching, in which drivers move their vehicles from space to space as the two-hour limit approaches.

Councilmember Scott Sedgley, meanwhile, called Napa’s monthly permit parking program an underused tool, saying its wider use by downtown merchants could keep more employees’ cars out of spaces that otherwise could be used by shoppers and diners.

“I tell business owners whose workers hopscotch, ‘Wouldn’t it help you if you gave your employees parking permits at $30 a month, a dollar a day?’” he said.

Because of a perception that many all-day parking slots – such as those in the Pearl Street garage – are too far from core businesses or unsafe at night, Councilmember Jim Krider suggested looking into a fleet of small shuttle vehicles running no-cost downtown routes, including to and from parking areas, similar to San Diego’s FRED (Free Ride Everywhere Downtown) system.

Whatever steps Napa takes to better manage its parking supply, Krider predicted a change of drivers’ expectations also will be needed to create lasting improvement – and ensure that prime vehicle spaces next to city hot spots turn over as quickly and fairly as possible.

“Napa has a small downtown, and people have a small-downtown notion that they should be able to park right next to where they’re going,” he said. “And it’s difficult to change that dynamic.”

Mostly absent from the City Council’s discussion was talk of installing a pay-to-park system to replace the meters Napa removed in the 1990s. City officials in 2016 discussed a pilot metering program that would have charged the users of about 500 vehicle spaces, but never followed through.

Meanwhile, Valadez, the Napa parking manager, said the city’s immediate plans will include setting goals and a budget by year’s end – and “trying to optimize our inventory first and get enforcement up to par first” before seeking any costlier fixes.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.