No more free parking? City could charge for spots in much of Elmwood, Southside

Berkeley’s solution to the “shuffle” of drivers moving their cars every two hours is getting pushback from some businesses and residents.

Many residential streets in the Elmwood that now let drivers park free for up to two hours, such as this block of Benvenue Avenue, could soon have paid parking. Credit: Nico Savidge

The days of scoring free parking on the side streets of Berkeley’s Elmwood and Southside neighborhoods might be coming to an end.

City officials are considering a pilot program that would start charging for parking on many of those two neighborhoods’ residential blocks, where visitors can now park for free for up to two hours. The proposal also calls for lengthening time limits on those blocks — allowing drivers to pay for up to eight hours of parking, rather than having to move their cars every two hours.

The idea is to eliminate the “two-hour shuffle” of drivers re-parking several times throughout the day, which adds to congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and to encourage people to find ways to get to those neighborhoods without using a car in the first place.

But the proposal — which city officials stress is “not final” — is drawing pushback from some residents and businesses, particularly over the impact it could have on employees at the districts’ shops and restaurants.

David Salk, the owner of Focal Point Opticians in the Elmwood, noted a worker with an eight-hour shift would have to spend $14 per day under the program’s proposed rates to park near his business, and even more if you factor in a lunch break or time spent walking to or from the car.

“Do you think that most employees — who are concerned with high rents, high food costs and high gas prices and all that stuff — are going to want to jump up and down to work in a neighborhood where parking costs $330 per month?” Salk said. “I don’t.”

“The crowd is going to thin rapidly, and businesses are already struggling to find employees,” he added.

A map showing in yellow the blocks in the Elmwood neighborhood where visitors would have to pay for parking, rather than being allowed to park for free for up to two hours. Areas shaded in blue, green and purple already have metered parking. Credit: City of Berkeley

The city is now gathering feedback on the proposals with a survey that is open through Jan. 14.

Berkeley’s City Council will decide whether to enact the one-year pilot program in the spring; if that happens, the new parking rules could be in place by June. City officials say they would then collect data on how the pilot goes and come back to the council in the spring of 2023 to decide whether to make the program permanent.

The proposed changes would not affect people who have city-issued parking permits for residents, visitors or merchants, nor those who have disabled placards — they could continue parking on the affected blocks for no additional charge.

Everyone else would have to pay for their space either by using a mobile app or payment kiosks set up around both neighborhoods. On some blocks, the program would also extend parking enforcement hours.

Leaders in Berkeley and other cities have been rethinking their approach to parking prices in recent years, as critics argue that not charging for those spaces gives people an incentive to drive even if they could walk, bike or ride a bus instead. More cars in an area means open parking spots can be harder to find, and trips done by driving add more carbon to our warming climate; transportation, mainly from passenger vehicles, represents the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California.

The Telegraph Business Improvement District has not taken a position on the proposed parking changes in the Southside, executive director Alex Knox said. While some members share the concern about how the extra cost could affect employees, Knox said the district also recognizes that charging for parking can help make sure spaces are available for those willing to pay.

“There’s only so much space” on the street, he said. “We have to make do with what we have, and strategies like these can help.”

A map showing in yellow the blocks in the Southside neighborhood where visitors would have to pay for parking, rather than being allowed to park for free for up to two hours. Areas shaded in blue, green and purple already have metered parking. Credit: City of Berkeley

The proposed changes to parking rules would be accompanied by a push to inform people about public transportation and other alternatives to driving.

But Salk contends taking public transportation would mean a longer commute for those who now drive to work, which could make life more difficult for parents or people with other time commitments. The Elmwood’s shopping district sits about a mile from the Ashby and Rockridge BART stations, and along AC Transit’s line 51, with buses arriving every 12 minutes for most of the day.

“We need to be sensitive to people’s lives,” Salk said.

While he agrees the “two-hour shuffle” is a problem, Salk believes the solution is for the city to increase the number of parking permits available to businesses, which could then pay to give their employees free parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

City officials reached by Berkeleyside did not respond to questions about Salk’s suggestion. In an emailed statement, Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko wrote, “What we’re presenting to the community are some options on how we help people move to and through a couple areas of Berkeley. One piece involves using demand-based parking strategies that have been successful in other parts of Berkeley.”

Doris Nassiry, an Elmwood resident who also opposes the parking changes, said she would be fine with granting more permits to merchants, saying employee parking in the neighborhood is “not a burden.” She also opposed the idea of charging to park on residential blocks in the first place, saying it wouldn’t be fair to people visiting the neighborhood.

“It’s punitive,” Nassiry said, “and it’s unfathomable.”

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.