Santa Rosa Junior College is installing another parking lot near campus. No big deal, right? This is a commuter school serving people from all corners of the county. Faculty and students need places to park.
This parking lot is carefully designed to meet all sorts of requirements. There’s comprehensive handicap accessibility.
Thoughtful landscaping will include drip irrigation for drought tolerant native plantings.
Here’s a shade structure on the corner for pedestrians. I have no doubt there will be electric vehicle charging stations and that the lighting will be downward facing to preserve the night sky and view of the stars. As parking lots go this one will be as attractive and well appointed as possible.
I pulled up some images on Google to see what was there before – three completely unremarkable old buildings. No one will miss them at all now that they’ve been removed. The people at the college will be pleased to have this additional parking. Engineers, landscape architects, and building contractors were happy to make money doing the work. Neighbors couldn’t have had much objection to such a benign project especially if it redirects commuters away from parking on residential side streets. This is the kind of plain vanilla project that travels through various regulatory agencies with tremendous institutional inertia and minimal community resistance.
But from a municipal standpoint this was a transaction of decline. How many people will live in the new parking lot? How many people will be employed there? How much tax revenue will be generated from this location? And what are the long term financial obligations associated with maintaining the adjacent public infrastructure: the roads, sidewalks, water mains, and sewer pipes that wrap around this property? Three buildings were taken off the tax rolls to make way for something that will generate no revenue, housing, or employment in a location that very much needs all three. And how much did the college spend buying the old buildings? Demolishing them? Installing the new parking lot? Could that money have been better spent on something else?
Down the block is a new multi-story parking deck on campus. Notice the graceful Gothic arch of the entrance and the clock tower in keeping with the civic nature of the institution. This is a fantastically expensive bit of architecture.
Nearby there’s another campus building that reflects a different set of priorities. Portable “temporary” glue box classrooms are clustered together to provide space for instruction. Spot the difference? Our social values are on display here. Every dollar spent on car infrastructure is a dollar not spent on the actual school. The college could have built the classrooms first and then rolled out additional parking later when funds were available. But the opposite occurred.
Back in 1939 society invested in solid public buildings like these which we all inherited and used for the last 77 years. With proper care these will be around for another 77 years. Does anyone think the glorified trailers, surface parking lots, and fancy garages we’re building today will be as valued by our great grandchildren in 2093? Will we as a society even have the collective wealth to support such institutions given our current investment strategy?