Oakland council approves demand-based pricing for downtown parking meters

OAKLAND — In a massive overhaul of its downtown parking policies, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously for a suite of changes, including demand-based pricing at meters and city-owned garages.

Under the new policy, which will go back to the council for final approval on Nov. 29, the price of metered parking could vary from $0.50 to $4 per hour based on demand. Prices to park at city-owned garages would also vary under the new policy. The goal is to have 85 percent of the spaces occupied at any given time, which makes it easier for people to find parking that meets their needs, said Jeffrey Tumlin, the city’s interim director of the Department of Transportation.

“We know that our businesses suffer or thrive based on the perception of availability of parking and access in general,” Tumlin said. “We want to drive business success by making it easy to park in all of the city’s commercial districts.”

Only two people spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing, and both blasted the council for what they said was an increase in the price of parking. Although parking may be more expensive in some places or at certain times, it will also be less in others, Tumlin said.

“How this works out for most people is that the places you really want to be at the times you really want to be will be more expensive,” said Oakland resident Brian Geyser.

In addition to the changes in the price of parking, the council approved a new permit process and location-based fee for dedicated car sharing spaces. Offering more car-sharing spaces enables more residents to opt out of owning their own car, Tumlin said.

The city plans to reduce the number of parking spaces in front of certain BART stations and convert the space to more curbside loading zones in order to make it easier for people to access ride-hailing services, taxis or shuttles, Tumlin said. There will also be more places to charge an electric vehicle throughout the city. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District earlier this year awarded Oakland a $244,000 grant to install 28 new electric vehicle charging stations in seven city-owned garages.

The city also plans to close one of those garages later this year. A building assessment revealed the Clay Street Garage needed $11 million in upgrades to the 53-year-old structure behind City Hall, according to a staff report. The city is in the process of determining how to redevelop the space, but said it would shift the garage’s monthly parking permit holders to the City Center West Garage located at 12th Street and Martin Luther King Way, and would add more visitor parking spaces at the Dalziel Garage, located at 16th and Clay streets.

While the council generally lauded the changes, councilmembers Desley Brooks and Noel Gallo both expressed concerns that the policies are aimed only at downtown and leave other commercial districts, such as Fruitvale, untouched. Brooks said there were problems with people speeding and congestion in front of schools that also need to be addressed.

“It seems neighborhoods are being neglected,” Brooks said. “While I know these things need to be done for downtown, we cannot stop at downtown.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission awarded the city a $1.3 million, three-year grant earlier this year to fund the demand-based pricing initiative, which will be used to pay for staff, consultants and equipment. Tumlin said the changes will first focus on downtown and commercial districts north of downtown, such as Temescal, before rolling out to other neighborhoods in subsequent phases, based on the availability of additional funding.

The changes follow a two-year pilot program in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood, as well as similar policies in San Francisco, Berkeley and Redwood City. A portion of the parking revenue will be returned to downtown neighborhoods with the creation of “parking benefit districts.”

Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Association, said the changes to the price of parking in Montclair have been generally well received by businesses. The changes have been slight — with prices raising to $2.50 in a three-block, high-occupancy stretch and lowering to $1 in a four-block area deemed low-occupancy. Frequent customers in Montclair have already found ways to best utilize the new rates, parking at lower-priced spaces when they know they will stay for a few hours and at the higher-priced spots when they are in a rush, Swafford said.

“For the most part, (business owners) understand the value of turnover and want to have accessibility in front of their stores,” Swafford said. “And customers have figured out the master strategy to take advantage of different situations.”
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