This afternoon, the Oakland City Council’s Finance and Management Committee discussed, among other things, the issue of parking privileges for city employees (PDF). You may have caught the item about this from The Oakbook the other day. If not, here’s the proposal.
One of the issues raised as part of budget discussions earlier this year was the cost of providing free parking in City garages to City employees. Parking spaces occupied by staff are parking spaces not available to the general public. Since we charge to park in the garages, every time we give away a parking space to staff for free, we are losing potential revenue that would come from having paying drivers occupy those spaces.
In order to minimize the lost revenue, the Committee today considered a proposal that would clearly define which City employees are eligible to receive free parking. I thought this was a good idea when they talked about it before, but after reading the list, I have a hard time seeing the point of any of this. Here’s the list of who would get free parking spaces under the plan:
- City Council: two spaces for Councilmembers (one on-street and one in the garage), plus two spaces each for staff
- Mayor: one space, plus seven spaces for staff
- City Auditor: one space, plus two spaces for staff
- City Attorney: one space, plus seven spaces for staff
- City Administrator: one space, plus five spaces for staff
- City Clerk: one space, plus one space for staff
- Agency Directors and Department Heads: one space
- Deputy and Assistant Directors: one space
- “Employees who are required to use their vehicles in the performance of assigned duties or whose work assignments regularly require that they work late hours”: one space, granted on a case-by-case basis by the City Administrator
- “Employees needing parking on a seasonal basis for the duration of time where there is a need to work late/irregular hours”: one space after 5 PM while they’re working late, granted on a case-by-case basis by the City Administrator
Staff estimates that this will free up a total of 33 parking spaces in the garage, bringing the City around $60,000 extra per year, which is, as District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan noted, “significantly less” money that the Council had expected to get out of the policy change.
The discussion started out strong, with District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan asking why the hell the report (PDF) didn’t even mention what all this free parking costs the City. WORD. Then she asked why we aren’t talking about providing monthly transit passes for employees, if we are, as we claim to be, a “transit first” city. Again, WORD.
Assistant City Administrator Marianna Marysheva-Martinez answered that with the combined total of around 200 city employees receiving free parking, we’re looking at a potential total of “just under $400,000 a year in foregone revenue.” Which, obviously. Parking is expensive. But also, WOAH. You would think that a figure like that would get everyone on that Committee pretty worked up and wanting to rethink this whole free parking thing. After all, they all know perfectly well just how staggering the budget cuts they’re going to have to make in just a few weeks are, and $400,000 is kind of a fortune.
Hahahaha! Committee members mostly expressed concerns about the categories of free parking where the City Administrator gets discretion in authorizing the privileges. In the end, they addressed the problem by requesting an annual report of how many people are getting free parking, so they can make sure the discretion isn’t being abused. Way to completely miss the point, which should be why the hell are we giving free parking to anyone? Reserved spaces in the garage, sure. I have zero problem with that. But the rationale behind saying that people shouldn’t have to pay for those spaces, just like everyone else who rents a monthly space, well, it’s just completely beyond me.
What discussion there was of transit alternatives was equally disappointing. I assumed, God knows why, when the phrase “transit pass” first came up, that they were talking about exploring an EasyPass program with AC Transit. No. Instead, the idea that got floated was that since a parking space could be rented for roughly $150 a month and a monthly transit pass costs $90 a month (which is wrong, BTW. AC Transit monthly bus passes cost $80), we could potentially save $60 per person by offering just the employees who were getting free parking the option of taking a monthly pass instead. Holy brain-dead inefficiency.
The Committee suggested we should go do a survey of all the people getting free parking to see if they were even interested in trading the space for a transit pass. Jean Quan suggested that we consider broadening the eligibility for a transit pass to everyone who receives an auto allowance as well, and staff said they would take a look at what other cities are doing and return with a report on the City’s options in March.
What other cities, like Alameda and Berkeley, and other local institutions, like Mills College, the Peralta Colleges, and UC Berkeley do not do is go to the AC Transit ticket office and buy off the shelf monthly passes for employees who elect to take them. They participate in AC Transit’s EasyPass program. With EasyPass, all employees are offered unlimited AC Transit passes loaded on TransLink cards. The cost per employee of the program is unique to every situation, but is based on pricing matrix where the City of Oakland, would, at most, be paying an annual per employee cost less than what the City seems to think it would cost to buy a pass each month.
Personally, I think it’s a no brainer that the City, which loves to bill itself as being so incredibly green and environmentally friendly, is beyond overdue for doing EasyPass. I understand, however, that reasonable people might argue that we can’t afford to start it right now, because it would cost money. I’m not unsympathetic to that argument, and if it doesn’t work out right now because of the budget, well, I wouldn’t think that’s the end of the world either. But I find it mind boggling that no one at the meeting even brought it up as an option. And whether we offer a transit option of any sort or not, there is simply no excuse for sacrificing this level of potential revenue by letting so damn many (or any) people park in the City’s garages for free.
- 05.04.2010: Free employee parking will be around a little longer
- 04.09.2010: Oakland: “Transit-first” only on paper