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.”
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!