Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Don’t neglect parking and traffic issues with proposed Sacramento arena

In all the hoopla over the design of Sacramento’s planned new downtown arena, city leaders can’t lose sight of two other huge issues – parking and traffic.

On parking, the City Council is to vote tonight to buy 6,000 new meters for nearly $5.6 million, plus award a $4.1 million, five-year operations contract to IPS Group, a San Diego firm whose meters are used in Los Angeles, San Francisco and several other California cities.

The new single-space meters will be more convenient for motorists; they can use credit cards to pay and eventually will be able to use smartphone apps to add time on meters or find open spaces. As a result, the new meters will also increase the city’s take – a projected 22 percent more than the $1.9 million collected in 2012-13. The city is also looking at raising rates, which would further boost the windfall.

About 4,000 new meters will replace old ones; the other 2,000 will be installed later as the central city grows. The additional spots haven’t been picked; some may be controversial.

Sacramento is way behind on parking modernization, which was in the works before the latest arena deal. Still, it can’t be ignored that parking is the linchpin of the arena financing plan, accounting for $212.5 million of the city’s contribution of at least $258 million.

City officials say they are being ultraconservative and are not counting on higher revenues. Additional parking cash would, however, increase the margin of safety for taxpayers. And with enough parking income, the city wouldn’t have to dip into its backup revenue source – the hotel room tax, which could then be freed up to finance other civic projects, such as renovating the Community Center Theater or expanding the Sacramento Convention Center.

The final arena financing plan is scheduled for approval next May, about 45 days after the arena’s environmental impact report is to be certified. That report is where traffic issues are to be worked out for the arena and related development near the Downtown Plaza site.

The environmental report will first go through the city’s Planning and Design Commission. In starting their review last week, several commissioners seemed a tad boosterish, talking about how excited they are to be involved in such a significant project. Their duty is to ask tough questions on a host of issues, including traffic.

How will fans be encouraged to use public transit? How can traffic flow best in and out of downtown? How will J Street and other routes through midtown be affected? How will neighborhoods be shielded from additional vehicles?

In the transportation studies so far, no major problems have cropped up, and it does not appear any major road improvements are necessary, says Assistant City Manager John Dangberg, the city’s lead official on the arena.

Just like parking hassles, however, horrendous traffic could make the arena more of a burden than a blessing. Smart thinking and attention to detail now will prevent that from happening.