Free employee parking will be around a little longer

Do you guys remember that whole issue where it turned out that the City was giving up like $400,000 a year in potential revenue by giving free parking at the garage near City Hall (PDF) to employees? And a lot of people really did not like that?

And then the Council was like, “Hmm, this seems like a lot of money. Let’s have this come back to Committee where you can explain more thoroughly the revenue implications of all this, and also please look into providing a transit pass option for employees instead.” So then it came back to Committee, but with very little supplemental information (PDF) and a really half-assed attempt to address the transit pass issue.

Pat Kernighan proposes no more free parking

So at the April 13th Committee meeting where this was discussed, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan came out and said that she did not think we should be providing free parking to anyone because it was bad environmental policy to encourage people to drive to work and subsidize their driving. I agree.

And then the Committee was like, “Please bring this back with more answers and look into this bus pass thing more.” So then last Tuesday, the issue came back to the Committee (PDF) again. And at that meeting, Pat Kernighan started right off saying she had a different proposal than the one before them, and hers did not involve giving all these people free parking.

Instead, she suggested that we take the employees who would qualify for free parking under the proposal, and instead of giving them free parking, offer them discounted monthly rates for parking in the garage, and the cost to them would be based on how much money they make. So employees earning less than $55,000 a year would have the option to park for $40/month, those earning between $55,000 and $75,000 a year would be able to park for $60/month, and so on, up to a cost of $140/month for employees earning over $125,000/year.

So this elaborate pricing structure is like, way overly complicated and totally arbitrary and also just kind of misses the point of how we should not be subsidizing parking for anyone. But hey, at least she’s trying to address the problem in some way, which is more than anyone else on that Committee seems willing to do, so kudos to Kernighan for that.

Employee parking fees must wait for another day

So, anyway. Then this thing happened. I don’t even know what was going on here. So Pat Kernighan says she has this brand new proposal about employees paying for parking with this elaborate pay structure and everything, and the City Attorney is like “Um, hello! You guys cannot discuss this.” Because, you know, you totally can’t.

So the reasonable, and I would feel comfortable saying expected response to that being pointed out would be for the Chair of the Committee to be like “Oh, yeah. You’re so right. We totally cannot discuss that right now. Let’s schedule it for the next meeting!” And then they would, and it would take all of like two seconds. Right?

So. That is not what happened.

This is. Jean Quan was like, “Oh, whatever.” And the City Attorney was all “Um, no. I mean it.” And Jean Quan was like “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.” And the City Attorney was like “Um, no. Really.” And Jean Quan was like “Yeah, well we’re not going to pass it today no matter what, so it’s no biggie if we talk about it. Wev.” And the City Attorney was all “Um…yeah. It doesn’t really work like that.” And Jean Quan kept, like, arguing with her over whether or not they were going to discuss this proposal. And the City Attorney kept telling her that to do so would be a clear violation of the Brown Act, and seriously — we are not talking about some, like, obscure clause or something. The fact that whatever is going to be discussed at a public meeting has to be noticed to the public in advance of that meeting is like, the basic premise of the law.

And this went on for like, a minute and a half, and it only stopped because Pat Kernighan interrupted her and was like “Um, yeah. She’s right. Let’s just schedule it for later.”

And I realize this is an odd tangent and I’m sorry for spending so much space on it, but really, this was just, like, bizarre. I mean, how do you serve as an elected official for like twenty freaking years and not get the fundamentals of open meetings law? Like, what is that? I don’t understand how that happens. And transparent government is one of her campaign platform points!

I mean, I go to a lot of meetings. And a lot of times, you go watch these minor Boards or whatever and they totally do not follow the Brown Act and ignore their agendas and vote with secret ballots(!!!) and pull shit like that. And I get pretty irritated about that and really think their staff should stop them, but it’s not worth getting that worked up over because, you know, these Boards have no power and it just doesn’t matter that much. But when you’re on the City Council, that’s a whole different thing. Weird.

What about a transit pass?

Anyway. So then, the Committee was all like, “Okay, so now there’s this proposal to not give the employees free parking that we can’t discuss right now, so should we pass this plan for giving them free parking now? Oh, gee, I guess that wouldn’t really make sense then, would it? Yeah. Okay, well, so should we just pass part of this proposal now and then leave the rest for when we come back to discuss the rates? Oh, well since this is proposal is only about who we give free parking to and now we don’t actually want to give anyone free parking, I guess we can’t pass any of it. Okay. Geez. Hey! Didn’t we say something before about a bus pass?”

So. I would not hold my breath for City employees to be getting EasyPass anytime soon. At the last meeting where this was discussed, the Committee had said that they wanted to move forward with the EasyPass program with AC Transit, but that they didn’t want to pay anything for it. So the idea was that if we did it, employees could take the pass or not, but if they did, they would have to pay for it. Of course, EasyPass is a pretty incredible deal, even if you’re paying the whole price out of pocket, so it’s not hard to imagine people wanting to take advantage of it. (At the last meeting, Pat Kernighan was like “Oh yeah, I don’t even ride the bus. But I’d buy it!) And the City is broke, so I didn’t have any problem with making staff pay for the whole thing.

So what the Committee directed staff to do at the previous meeting, to see if we would be able to do EasyPass without it costing the City money, was to survey all the employees about if they would participate in an EasyPass program if they had to pay for it, So then at last week’s meeting, the Committee asked what kind of response they got from City employees about whether they would want the EasyPass if they had to pay for it, and staff was like “We asked the people who get free parking if they would rather have a bus pass and they all said no.” And the Committee was like “Yeah, obviously. We asked you to ask all the employees if they would do it. So when are you going to have those results for us?”

And staff was just like, “Oh, well we weren’t planning on asking people and coming back to you with that. We were just going to do it.” And the Committee was like “Huh?” And Assistant City Administrator Marianna Marysheva-Martinez was all “Well, since the employees will pay for it themselves, we’ll just tell people that if they want the pass at the discount rate AC Transit offers it to us at, they can buy it, and there’s no contractual obligation that you would have to approve.” And Pat Kernighan was like “Um, isn’t there a minimum number of participants?” And Marianna Marysheva-Martinez was like “Uh…yeah, we’ll get back to you.”

EasyPass Disconnect

So, um, as far as I understand it, that is not how EasyPass works. The employer enters into an agreement with AC Transit to do this program, and it’s not just like, “Okay, now you get near-free bus passes as much as you want. Just give us a call when you want another one!” You’re supposed to have a site coordinator and work with AC Transit to promote the program, and educate your employees about their transit options and also you pay for the whole program at once at the start of the year, based on a number of program participants you have agreed on.

The per participant price for EasyPass also varies widely based on the number of participants. Like, if you’re doing it for 1,000 people, the per pass price maxes out at $82/person, while the per-pass price for 100 people can run up to $115.

It seems to me that if Oakland were going to do an EasyPass program, which I totally think they should, there’s actually a lot the Council needs to talk about. Are employees expected to cover the whole cost of their pass? Okay, great. How are we going to make sure we make a deal for the right number of passes and don’t end up having to eat a fortune if we don’t end up selling that many? Who is going to be eligible for the pass? Full-time employees? Part-time employees? Temporary employees? Civilian employees? Sworn employees? Only employees who work at City Hall? Or everyone, throughout the City? If they do it for staff at all different locations, is that going to impact the pricing structure for the passes, since all these different locations must be in a variety of different level of service zones. Or is everyone’s pass, no matter where they work, going to be priced based on the level of service for City Hall? Right?

I mean, these are just a few of the questions that pop into my head about this. I’m sure that if I spent a little more time thinking about it, I would have lots more questions. The idea that staff thinks they can or that it would even be appropriate to enter into an EasyPass program agreement without talking to the Council about it is, frankly, terrifying.

But what’s even more disconcerting is that they just do not seem to be taking the direction to explore an EasyPass program seriously at all. Listening to staff talk about the EasyPass program, which they had been directed to investigate, at both last week’s meeting and the previous one, it sounded a lot to me like nobody at the City of Oakland had so much as bothered to pick up the phone and talk to anyone at AC Transit about it. And while it’s entirely possible I’m wrong about that, I would be very surprised to discover as much, because the information they are providing to the Committee seems like what you would get if you kind of glanced at the EasyPass website and didn’t even it read it very closely.

I mean, forgive my skepticism, but they couldn’t even get AC Transit’s name right in the most recent report (PDF), which, really. I mean, that’s just pathetic. And it isn’t like there isn’t precedent for staff being totally dismissive of transit options and not bothering to do any research about it whatever. I mean, back in January when the Committee asked staff about transit alternatives to free parking, staff replied with total confidence that the cost to giving a bus pass to employees was $90/month. Which is, of course, even more than it costs to buy the passes retail. And the premise in all their reports that out of like 5,000 people who work for the City, we should only expect 100 to use the program is just freaking preposterous. Anyway.

Don’t hold your breath for the paid parking either

And what about Pat Kernighan’s proposal to charge these employees different rates for parking based on how much money they make? Well, don’t be looking for that one on any agendas in the near future. Staff’s response to the proposal was that they will have to meet and confer with the unions before the Committee can talk about it any more.

You see, even though free parking isn’t spelled out as a benefit in the MOUs, since these employees have been getting free parking for so long anyway, it can be considered a benefit that’s being taken away anyhow, and so you can’t change it without talking to the union first. When the Committee asked how long it would take before the item could come back, the response they got was basically, “Don’t expect to see it anytime soon.”

You can watch the discussion below:

So I guess for now, we’ll just keep on giving an unspecified number of employees free parking that we could be renting out to the public and making money off of, and maybe someday we’ll do EasyPass, or maybe not. You know, whatever. Gotta love the City of Oakland!

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19 thoughts on “Free employee parking will be around a little longer

  1. R Kaplan

    Ah yes, bad transportation policy/planning strikes again. This is yet another reason why we really need to have transportation issues coordinated together in Oakland, both in terms of staff knowledge and in terms of Committee structure. Sending parking and transit pass issues to the Finance Committee is a huge part of this problem, as that Committee has no expertise on transportation/parking/transit issues. And yes, they got the transit pass explanation wrong — (you got it right), including that the cost of the universal pass program is much lower than stated…

  2. Robert

    RK, This is really not about poor transportation policy, and is not something a transportation commission is going to solve. This is about city staff not doing what is requested by the city council, and what they do do they do poorly. This is about accountability. While the finance committee may not have known about transit issues, the problem here is that the staff did not do its job. And if you are elected mayor, you should be focused first on making staff effective and accountable, and then worry about details like the need for a transportation commission.

    What happened here has happened many times in the past, with cc requesting information and staff doing whatever they felt like. I have seen published staff proposals that I would have laughed at from first year graduates from college, with vague descriptions of work to be performed, lack of criteria to evaluate the results, and no indication of what cc would be making decisions on. While staff at the public interaction level generally seems responsive, the higher professional levels do not appear to be motivated to do a proper job.

  3. Sean Sullivan

    I disagree that we shouldn’t be subsidizing the cost of some staff. The staff of multiple offices have to be at work late to report to council or go to community meetings in reduced hours of BART or AC Transit. If they are driving not solely for their daily commute, why should they not be subsidized? That said, this all points to a glaring omission of a citywide parking and transportation policy. Budget constraints are pointed to as the reason this does not take place. However, every budget battle that’s taken place in the last year has looked to juice money out of either residents, consumers or city employees for parking. There is no over all policy ensuring that these ideas are enacted in ways that make sense. Parking meters are added at whim. Parking permits are given out in Jack London Square constraining those who commute with the overly high priced Amtrak while areas of Uptown provide wide swaths of free parking to commuters with only a once a week street cleaning sign. We would all be well served, our budget this year and going forward, with a comprehensive, city wide, principle based parking and transportation policy that took all of these things into account.

  4. Mary Hollis


    Nobody says that city staff who work late should not have the option of driving home.

    We are debating whether the taxpayer should pay for city employee’s parking when almost every private employee I know has to pay for theirs.

    So if you can explain why there is a double standard in that regard, I’d love to hear it.

    And by the way, you combine so many “negatives” in your assertions, that it is sometimes quite hard to discern whether you are for or against. Just saying.

  5. Bruce Nye

    Unless I’m missing something, it looked last Thursday as if City Council was operating in a parallel universe on this issue. CC DLF proposed funding $265K of arts, Children’s Fairyland, etc. by moving city employees t o Central West parking (where spaces are underutilized) and selling the spaces across from City Hall. Staff response was that this was actually already included in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets, but wasn’t being realized because none of the employees wanted to move a block and a half away owing to safety concerns. And CA Lindheim said that since the city started using the basement at the garage, it wasn’t full, so there probably wasn’t $265K to be realized there anyway. So in other words, instead of non-existent parking revenue being used to fund arts, etc., the non-existent parking revenue was already being used to balance the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets.

    RK did I misunderstand the discussion on this issue?

  6. david vartanoff

    @Mary Hollis, Sean and all, Well actually they ALWAYS have the option of (from Easy Pass FAQ)
    “What happens if an employee needs an emergency ride home?
    Sometimes people are reluctant to take public transit into work because they worry about how they will get home in case of illness or family emergency. Both Alameda and Contra Costa counties offer “Guaranteed Ride Home” programs for employers that allow the employee to use a taxi or rental car in the event of family illness, unscheduled overtime, or other emergency.”
    so the “stranded after rush hour” excuse is bogus.
    This really is a sad example of staff failing to provide CCMs w/ honest info.

  7. Mary Hollis


    Again, no sane person wants to restrict any option a city worker might wish for to get home safely at any time.

    We are only quibbling about whether the taxpayers should pay for it.

    And given that many private employyes have the same issue, and have to fund their choice at their own expense, it is not clear to me why City staff should be any different.

    And that goes for CC members and the Mayor too. Not that I expact any of them to vote themslves out of a taxpayer-funded privilege of course.

  8. Andy K

    I agree with Robert – staff disregard for direction is unbelievable. I have attended meetings with public boards in other jurisdictions, and believe me, if the staff reports and actions were not in line with the boards direction, they heard about it big time.

    Jean Quan – holy. moly.

  9. Livegreen

    It is just amazing how Staff disregards our CC, which makes me wonder:
    –Is it because Staff is incompetent or because they have a conflict of interest because they’ll lose benefits?;
    –Can they b fired for such incompetence?
    –As I understand the strong mayor form of City Govt, staff reports to the City Mgr and then to the Mayor. Since Staff & the Asst. City Admin are ignoring answering the CC here, isn’t the City Administrator essentially enabling the Staff to ignore the CC? Either intentionally or through his inaction?

    –Having had two hands-off Mayors, my first reaction was we’ve essentially abdicated to a Weak Mayor or Counsel-Manager form of Govt. Except that’s not quite true because then the CC would have some control over Staff. Whereas here with our Mayor being absent, in his absence the CC tries to delegate responsibilities but then the Staff is free to ignore them (practically & legally).

    All enabled by the Mayor & the City Admin. & if this is accurate then I’ve answered my 2nd question. & this also means right now we have no functioning government or, absent a Mayor, no way to enforce a functioning government or obligate Staff to do anything. & Staff knows this.
    –Is there then a way for the CC to force the Mayor to do anything, or if he won’t, abdicate? I mean I know we only have another year of this but enough!

  10. oakie

    I suspect for every city meeting a person attends, their IQ is reduced by one point. Seems to me it’s best to avoid.

    The “alternative universe” in Oakland removes the following points:

    The city is now millions in deficit yearly, even before acknowledging that we have not budgeted for some a hundred million dollars worth of accumulated pension obligations based on PAST employment. And this shortfall is structural.

    City employees already are compensated some 20% greater than others in the Bay Area, which is significantly higher that public employees statewide, which are significantly better compensated that public employees in other states. At this point, one out of three city employees has total compensation in six figures. Have you checked the stats on the city resident’s income
    distribution lately?
    Budgets will only get worse, not better, in a region and state that has some of the highest unemployment in the country and a business public policy that will continue to drive companies to locate elsewhere. This is tenfold in Oakland.

    City officials actually believe they can ask the citizens to increase their taxation load with yet another parcel tax after demonstrating a complete failure in performing rudimentary fiscal fiduciary responsibility plus total incompetence in operating a city. The icing on the cake is the audit demonstrating the waste of 1 our of 3 dollars in a $3 million program given to the city for the express purpose of creating new jobs (and claiming a paltry 6 jobs created, which the audit said was in fact only 3—after spending $3 million!). And the mayor’s response is ‘get over it.’

    IQs in this city are getting lower and lower. Time is of the essence. After all, they do have an awful lot of meetings in this city. And ‘awful’ is the operative word.

    So what are they saying about giving out a transit pass perk? Better check with the union.

  11. len raphael

    Speaking of cc meetings. Other than demand that the A’s never hold spring training in AZ, does Oakland hold any leverage over AZ?

  12. Born in Oakland

    Okay I thought this was an intelligent blog, but are we to now pound the podium about Arizona’s woes while our own day laborers can’t work fixing our City because the fab “living wage” ordinance prevails….making us libs feel good while the migrants suffer. Unbelievable!

  13. VivekB

    Oakland has no leverage over Oakland, much less AZ.

    We need to clean up our own house before worrying about anyone elses. Right now we are understandably a laughingstock. Hell, the NFL doesn’t even stay in Oakland when they come here for games, I doubt the MLB does either.

    Once we get out of the top 10 for crime, and actually have a government that we don’t have to be embarassed about, then we can worry about other jurisdictions.

  14. matt

    Thank you V. I really enjoy your infotainment style of writing. Looks like this meeting provided more material than usual though… ugh.

    So I just read the Fruitvale’s Cinco de Mayo festival was canceled because the merchants couldn’t afford the cost for extra policing…. about $40k. I was speechless. How is it that the city doesn’t see how important it is to support such events? They will spend $400k on city employee parking but not $40k so the Fruitvale can have a Cinco de Mayo festival?

  15. Dax

    You know, the Oakland City Council spending time addressing the Arizona law may make themselves feel good and show support that they want seen for political reasons but the general public across the nation is in conflict about this issue. I’m thinking the views in Oakland itself are hardly unanimous.
    More politically correct than unanimous.

    Not reported locally is the well done New York Times / CBS poll recently done and published May 3rd.

    The results were rather amazing when seen in contrast to the media reporting.
    Even the NY Times failed to highlight the true figures within other figures.

    The results

    Opinions on Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law—

    Is about right 51%
    Doesn’t go far enough 9%
    Goes too far 36%
    No opinion 4%

    That 60% of Americans feel the law is about right or doesn’t go far enough is something under reported in the news.

    Sure, we’ve heard that 70% in Arizona favor the bill, but it appears that most Americans also favor the some of those actions (if the federal govt does nothing).

    On the other hand, a majority of the people polled, 57 percent, said the federal government should determine the laws addressing illegal immigration.

    Oakland really has so many other problems to address instead of voting to end any contracts with Arizona.
    BTW, how is it that Oakland refuses to accept job applications or hire anyone in the country without legal permission?
    How can they do that and then vote blanket proclamations against Arizona’s actions?

    Did anyone suggest that all Oakland positions should be open to everyone regardless of immigration status?
    Perhaps a proclamation on that issue is in order. I’m sure that would fly.
    Yet another double standard for the private sector and the public sector.

  16. Andy K

    Matt points out while even a “small” $ item like parking is important to a broke city. Disgusting. Staff doesn’t follow directions, boards don’t make decisions, and the city burns, crumbles, goes off the cliff.

  17. dto510

    Is the City aware that giving free parking to only some employees must be reported as compensation per IRS regulations?