PARKING POLITICSSep 13, 2016 06:25PM ● By Sophie Johnson
If you remember when Nordstrom was once Bullock’s, you’re likely nostalgic for the days when parking in Walnut Creek was free. Folks, those days are gone along with reasonably-priced Eichler homes in Rancho San Miguel and groves of Walnut trees on Ygnacio Valley Road. Our suburban enclave is urbanizing, and along with the gamut of new restaurants and shops opening, changes in parking are coming too.
Starting this fall, the private Broadway Plaza garage will begin a new controlled parking program. While the first two hours remain free, the cost for parking anytime between two and three hours will run $3, increasing with each additional hour to a daily cap of $25 for longer than a five hour stay. All-day valet parking remains available at $8 per hour.
On social media sites like Nextdoor, which connects Walnut Creek and Alamo neighborhoods in a vast community forum, critics complain that it takes far longer than the free two hours to window shop, grab lunch and try on clothes. Some insist that a shopping stint at Broadway Plaza will no longer attract them if parking is not free, and driving to Concord or Pleasanton to spend their mall money is a better option. Opponents to the new fees maintain that the downtown will suffer from the reduced number of shoppers and the new private parking policy is penny-wise, pound foolish. Others lament that Las Lomas High School students won’t have anywhere to park.
At the risk of ridicule, I welcome the small fees; spending a few bucks is a small price to pay for shopping local. For one thing, I don’t go to Broadway Plaza to add more hangers to my closet or potions to my bathroom cabinets. I admit to being a dedicated Amazon shopper already. The reason I cheerfully wander the new pedestrian paths in Broadway Plaza is because of the experience. At the $250 million redeveloped shopping center, it feels like Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. Families stroll in unison, folks sit in cafes reading, and new moms rest in the outdoor easy chairs. The ambience is welcoming with sustainable fountains and hanging geraniums. And let’s be frank, if I’m spending more than two hours in the parking garage, I’m likely paying $13 for a sandwich, and asking if the basil in the pesto is organic before shopping for a new pair of designer shoes.
The cynics among us don’t seem to account for the costs associated with upgrading and expanding the private parking garage. They don’t consider the inevitable increase in sales tax revenue from stores drawing non-Walnut Creek residents to our town who ultimately support our city services with revenue from sales tax. If you live in Moraga, where are you going to shop for the latest iPhone or Kate Spade handbag? It’s true that traffic in Walnut Creek is a problem, the apartments going up may be excessive, and the City needs to add more public parking overall to match Walnut Creek’s growth. But like it or not, paid parking is a new reality.