A long-range plan for the development and maintenance of Fresno parks was unanimously approved Thursday by the Fresno City Council, setting the stage for a comprehensive parks master plan for adoption next summer.
The vision plan prepared by architect John Gibbs of consulting firm WRT Design represents the culmination of a process of community meetings and surveys to determine areas of greatest need, including identifying areas for capital improvements and maintenance. Thursday’s 7-0 vote authorizes a more detailed analysis and even deeper outreach to the community during the first half of 2017 before a final plan is presented to the council.
Parks have been a sore spot for many residents in the southern portion of Fresno, an area where recreation facilities are fewer and more scattered than in the north. And throughout the city, park maintenance has suffered because of budget cuts during the deepest part of the economic recession of the late 2000s.
Gibbs acknowledged the budget realities – that to build, renovate and maintain parks requires money that is not easy to come by. But, he added, “parks do generate value, for local neighborhoods in property values, (and by) adding jobs and value to communities” as a feature that families and employers look for in cities where they may locate. That is why funding for maintaining existing parks and for building new parks will likely be a major focus of the plan that ultimately is presented.
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The new General Plan adopted in late 2014 set a goal to have five acres of parkland for every 1,000 resident in Fresno, including three acres of community, neighborhood and “pocket” parks per 1,000 residents.
The vision plan calls for developing strategies to maintain and renovate the city’s existing parks, many of which suffered from budget cuts as Fresno struggled with the economic recession; partnering with local agencies including schools; and building new parks.
“Many of these strategies are basic, but they provide a strong, solid platform to move forward,” Gibbs told the council. “They are obvious things, but these are what our group was grappling with.”
Thursday’s planned discussion and vote on a land-use plan for southwest Fresno was pushed off until Dec. 8 at the request of District 3 Councilman Oliver Baines. He asked for a vote to initiate the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan to allow time to discuss “a couple of minor tweaks with residents and stakeholders.”
Parking rates in downtown Fresno, from city-owned garages to curbside parking meters, could be in for an overhaul as the city confronts the need to maintain and improve its parking garages.
In a workshop Thursday, a consultant told Fresno City Council members that the city suffers from low occupancy – about 20 to 25 percent of capacity – at its five garages that offer a combined 3,646 parking stalls for daily and monthly parking. That’s well below the 80 to 85 percent occupancy that consultant Jeremy Rocha, of Walter P. Moore & Associates Inc., said is the industry standard.
And while the monthly contract rates charged by the city for spaces in the garages – between $75 and $90 per stall – are generally in line with what other cities charge, many contracts are deeply discounted, some to as low as $30 a stall.
Fresno parking garages need about $10 million in maintenance.
City Manager Bruce Rudd plans to bring forth a proposal later this month to reshape the parking fee structure, from restoring first-hour-free parking in several of the city’s garages to increasing the monthly contract rates for government offices and businesses that rent spaces, to raising the cost to park at meters across downtown.
The city is also looking into the prospect of installing new “smart” parking meters to allow for “demand pricing” in which the city can adjust fees for meters in certain areas depending on special events. Such meters could also work with smartphone applications so customers could add time using their cellphone without having to rush out of a meeting or event to feed more coins to the meter.
Rocha estimated that a 25-cent increase in the hourly rate at parking meters, from 75 cents to $1, could generate about $316,000 more for the city to help it maintain its parking facilities.
Because current meter rates are lower than the parking garage rates, raising the meter rates could also encourage drivers who use meters for more than a few hours at a time to use garages, increasing turnover at the meters and making it easier to find an available meter, Rocha said.
One of the No. 1 complaints I hear is the cost of parking in downtown Fresno.
City Councilman Steve Brandau
Rudd pointed out that conditions of many of the city’s garages and lots are so poor that would-be patrons of downtown don’t want to park in them. All told, he said the garages need about $10 million in maintenance that has been deferred over the years. But the discounted contract parking rates fall well short of the estimated $60 per space needed just to maintain them in their current condition, let alone providing improvements to make them more appealing to customers.
The proposals may not see smooth sailing. Councilmen Clint Olivier and Steve Brandau expressed concern that raising rates is counterintuitive to the idea of attracting more people to downtown.
“If the goal is to maintain parking structures, I understand that,” Brandau said. “But if the goal is revitalizing downtown and you’re going to do that by raising rates, I think there’s a clash there. … One of the No. 1 complaints I hear is the cost of parking in downtown Fresno.”
Olivier said he thinks if residents could be surveyed about parking, “I think what we would find out is that the city of Fresno has completely failed in providing parking downtown.”
He was particularly harsh in addressing parking-meter enforcement, which he described as “predatory.”
“People view us as trying to make money off of them,” he said. “I think the city should get out of the parking business altogether. Can city sell these structures? Can we put up a ‘For Sale’ sign?”
Downtown parking inventory
▪ Parking meters: Approximately 2,000 spaces
▪ Parking garages: Five garages, total 3,646 spaces
▪ Parking lots: Seven surface lots, total 2,180 spaces