Downtown business owners and residents say they have noticed an uptick in parking enforcement by the City of Fresno, and some think it could eventually drive them away from the area. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Blake Barnett of video production company Blare Media keeps his eyes on the clock when he’s parked in Downtown Fresno. If he or his coworkers at the Broadway Street office forget to move their car, they could end up with a parking ticket — as they have three times in the past month.
“They haven’t been coming every day,” said Barnett. “If they came every day it would be really, really frustrating. I don’t know what we’d do. We’d probably have to move if they came every day.”
Barnett, along with other Downtown Fresno tenants and residents, say the City is ramping up its parking enforcement in ways never seen before, making some reevaluate coming to the area at all. In the Mural District, business owners say they have no options for permanent parking. In addition, a lack of parking in the area and two-hour limits make it hard on clients and employees. Nearer the Brewery District, the cost for parking passes in City-owned garages has kept businesses from moving to the area.
The City maintains it has always enforced rules and written tickets, having only stopped during Covid. Regardless, several business owners feel left with few, if any, options. The concerns from residents and business owners have prompted the City to undergo a parking study, six years since the last one.
Both Barnett and his neighbor Greg Sumii noticed the City ramping up enforcement following the May Art Hop.
Sumii owns Liquid Fetish, a tattoo parlor that celebrated 10 years in Downtown Fresno in May. Both he and Barnett have been told they aren’t allowed to park in nearby privately-owned surface lots owned by Tutelian & Co. Those spaces are limited to tenants in Tutelian buildings. Going back to 2012, Sumii has parked on the street, as have his clients, without ever getting ticketed, he said.
In May, one of his clients noticed a ticket on their car. Sumii went out and saw that every car on the street had received a ticket. Sumii felt targeted.
“For them to just blanket the whole street, they’re trying to communicate something to us,” Sumii said. “And the message isn’t great for residents and small businesses to come Downtown to make their way.”
As more residents and businesses come to the area, Sumii says there simply isn’t enough parking. Business owner Sierra Smith echoes the sentiment.
Smith owns Chromatic Studio, a hair salon at Broadway and Amador streets. She says it’s great that the Peerless Building has been filling up, but it has meant difficulty finding parking. Once the nearby Fresno County Hispanic Commission reopens from Covid shutdowns, she says things will get even worse.
And the two-hour limits don’t work for hair or tattoo appointments, which can last upwards of six hours. Both she and Sumii say they worry for their clients who must park further away and walk to their cars after dark.
Barnett has to play “musical cars” with his company van. When he goes out to speak with the parking attendant, they suggest he just move the van a few feet, he said.
Barnett has looked at available options. Businesses in the Downtown Corridor are eligible for one parking permit per property for $80 a year. Beyond that, a permit to park on the street costs $77 a month. City employees pay $15 a month.
Barnett and Sumii have gone to their landlord, Reza Assemi, about their problem. Assemi says too much focus has been put on proposals such as a free trolley service, which could be beneficial in some circumstances, but doesn’t address real problems in Downtown.
“What we’re feeling in that community is that the City is punishing a thriving neighborhood,” Assemi said. “They have the opportunity to roll the red carpet out for them. We should be prioritizing them and catering to them rather than trying to make a buck off them.”
Assemi says he doesn’t think parking should be free, but it should be more accessible and reasonably priced.
Assemi and his business partner Jamin Brazil revitalized the Sun Stereo Warehouse across the street from Tioga Sequoia Brewing Co. Assemi was trying to court a Clovis business and their nine employees to relocate to the Downtown office building. But with the $93 a month fee to park in a City-owned garage, the $837 monthly price tag was “a deal breaker,” Assemi said.
“I can’t blame them,” he said. Bulk rates for parking stalls don’t kick in unless a business owner purchases 50 stalls. Outside of governmental agencies, there are not many Downtown employers who hit that threshold.
The Spiral Garage has a total of 587 stalls and averages 149 cars per day, according to counts acquired from the City of Fresno. The Congo Garage averages 189 cars per day for 313 stalls.
The Convention Center garage averages 173 cars per day for 1,565 stalls.
The Underground Garage averages 417 cars per day for 968 stalls.
Studying the problem
For its part, the rumblings surrounding parking have prompted the City to look at doing a study, said Gregory Barfield, assistant City Manager who oversees parking enforcement.
When they last did a parking study six years ago, the only apartments were the Pearl Building and the Iron Bird Lofts.
The survey of business owners and residents should help them find the “sweet spot” — how long people should be able to park in a certain spot, how many times a spot turns over and, more simply, if there is enough parking.
Residents, employees and business owners all have different needs, said Barfield. Residents may only need parking in the evening, where employees need parking during the day. Many business owners may want parking spots to turn over faster.
Barfield said the study should be able to be done within the Parking Department’s existing budget and with current employees. The last parking study took six months to complete before findings were brought to the City Council for approval.
They have also been without a parking manager. In May, City Council approved moving Melissa Almaguer into the position, a City-employee veteran of around 20 years.
Studies are typically done every five years, Barfield said.
“Beyond the pandemic, I think it was one of those things that just went by the wayside,” Barfield said of the reason for the extended gap.
Considering the anticipated growth in Downtown Fresno, Barfield says three-and-a-half years might be a better time span for parking studies in the area.
Assemi said he’d like to see business owners and residents given one free parking pass. If not that, then employees or frequent visitors should be given affordably priced passes.
And perhaps a spoonful of sugar could help. Assemi said he recently received a parking ticket in Paso Robles that thanked him for coming to the area and included maps to parking lots and garages. Assemi said something like that would show appreciation for people coming Downtown.
“When we see the parking person come, enforcement, we move cars. Or we look for chalk,” said Barnett. “If we see chalk, we tell everyone to move their cars. That’s our game plan right now. It’s not a good game plan, it’s not a long-term game plan or solution. “We’re hoping the city will help us provide another solution.”
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