more housing, less parking

I have been gradually compiling data on two types of properties that could be developed into housing, or mixed use, removing unproductive uses such as surface parking and empty lots. The data at the moment is just the southwest portion of the Sacramento central city, bounded by Capitol Mall/Ave on the north, Broadway on the south, Sacramento River on the west, and 16th Street on the east.

I am not claiming high accuracy. The polygons are parcels from the Sacramento County parcel layer, selected using ArcGIS Imagery basemap, with consultations to Google Maps and Google Earth (the historical imagery allows selection of views without leaves on the trees, making it much easier to see what is on a parcel). I am sure I have missed some parcels, and included some that should not be. Nevertheless, I think the pattern is worth thinking about. Parcels that contain significant parking but also contain a building are not included, though obviously when counting parking, it is important. And, the map does not include street parking or structured parking. If those were included, the map would be a mass of red. There is a remarkable amount of structured parking (often called parking decks), both freestanding, and layered into other buildings.

I have not distinguished who owns these parcels. Probably about half the parking is owned by the state, and the rest by private parking companies. Of the empty parcels, it is less clear, but there is a mix of public (state and city) and private. It would take a great deal of time to determine ownership in order to code these differently. Maybe in the future, but I’m not sure this is a significant issue.

The graphic is below, but more useful will be the ArcGIS Online WebApp Sacramento parking & empty. This is my first experiment with presenting information through a WebApp map, but I realized that people would otherwise be ruining their eyes trying to parse out the polygons of surface parking and empty lots in the static map. Red is surface parking, orange is empty parcels.

So, why the data compilation. There are a significant number of empty parcels in the central city, all of which could be housing instead of empty. And every surface parking lot could be and should be developed into a more productive use. By productive, I mean something of direct use to humans instead of cars, and more productive of sales tax and property tax. Our property tax system values empty lots and parking lots are virtually zero, meaning they contribute little to our tax base needed to provide services. I’ll say more about this shortly.

The slideshow below shows many of the surface parking lots in the southwest quadrant of the central city. It may include photos of parcels that contain a building but also have excess parking.

The next slideshow shows many of the empty lots in the southwest quadrant of the central city.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

10 thoughts on “more housing, less parking”

  1. 🤯 I see most of these on a regular basis, but collected together, that’s alot of empty parking lots and open space!

  2. One thought (or more) to definitely keep in mind is that from a ground level more immediate issues will be occurring which may impact the value and /or availability of these parcels, such as numbers of homeless and their tent cities, outdoor dining sites, which may remain in place post-pandemic.

    I am a GIS specialist with 15+ years of experience. Most recently I worked with many versions of Google Earth and Google Maps for Caltrans and have seen how discrepancies in the timing of data can affect accuracy.

    I would like to discuss your efforts soon as I believe I can be a great asset to them.

  3. I am a GIS specialist with 15+ years of experience, most recently having worked for 7+ years at Caltrans using GIS for roads infrastructure projects, and saw numerous instances of how discrepancies in the timing of imagery can affect the end product.

    This is a significant factor that needs to be considered, particularly because of street level uses such as homeless tent cities that may affect the property values of parcels.

  4. Dear Dan,
    As much as it appears the surface lots are dead space, they serve a critical component of working downtown. It may not be apparent right now due to the pandemic, but it is extremely difficult for employees to find parking. It would not make sense to convert the lots into housing if the backbone of our region’s economy can’t get to work. We pay the majority of the property, sales and income tax and should have a say in how these properties should be used. I say convert the surface lots into additional parking structures.

    1. In pre-pandemic times, some of these surface lots were full, but many were not. There will never be as many state workers car commuting post-pandemic as there were before. Some will continue to work from home, some will come into the office some days but not every day, and some will use other modes.

      The state has always built office buildings without considering the need for housing for workers, in fact they were complicit with the city in erasing housing in order to build office buildings. Though many higher income employees may prefer to live in and commute from the suburbs, the middle income people who maintain the buildings and the lower income people who clean the buildings would mostly prefer to live close. But these surface parking lots make that impossible.

      By providing free parking for state workers, the state is tipping the scales that a person uses to determine their method of transportation, subsidizing single occupant vehicles rather than walking, bicycling, transit, and carpooling. This results in a decision based on the economics for the individual and not society.

      Who is the ‘we’ you refer to? Are you implying that the suburbs are paying the expenses of the city? The suburbs are a net loss for the city, the tax income never pays the cost of maintaining infrastructure and providing services, and in fact it is higher productivity parts of the city that are subsidizing the suburbs.

    2. Count me among the State workers frustrated with the lack of housing in downtown! I’m worried that in a decade or so, I’ll be priced out and no longer be able to afford to work for the State!
      With the departments planning full or partial telework after the pandemic, there is a sudden and drastic reduction in the demand for parking. This means it would be a non-disruptive time to give us State employees (and everyone else who does, or wants to, work downtown) more options.

  5. I’m continuing to work on the other four quadrants of the central city, but it is a very slow process. The southeast quadrant will be next.

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