On Thursday, Grand Lake Theater proprietor Allen Michaan hosted a meeting at the theater to protest recent increases in Oakland’s parking fees and fines. I attended the meeting, and frankly, there was so much bluster and vitriol in the theater that afternoon that the one or two accurate criticisms I heard were completely lost in a sea of loopy rhetoric. Mr. Michaan’s ideas about Oakland politics are reckless, grandstanding and naive.
In his opening remarks, Michaan called the fee and fine hikes extortion. He then launched into a screed in which he declared that he was prepared to recall every sitting Oakland City Councilmember if his demands weren’t met. There were unofficial recall petitions in the lobby, and he asked guests to sign them.
A few reactions to this: First, it would be an obscenity if Michaan was able to run a successful recall campaign…because he lives in Alameda and he can’t even vote in Oakland, let alone sign or initiate an official recall petition. (That’s why the petitions at this meeting were unofficial). Second, the number of signatures he needs would be impossible to obtain. Even if he did succeed in that phase, three of eight council seats are up in 2010. Is it even legal to have a recall election coincide with an ordinary election? In short, the recall idea is grandstanding and nothing more.
Mr. Michaan believes that the new fees and fines were hurting local business. They have been in effect for barely two weeks. Any observations he has about his own business slowing down are purely anecdotal and premature. My personal theory is that he’s been showing the new Harry Potter movie, which has been widely panned by critics and the public.
Allen Michaan himself is a bigger threat to local businesses than the new parking fees. He tells us he’s afraid that the fear of getting a ticket will scare away his customers. His solution was to call the local TV news stations in for a field day, and talk about how horrible the fines are. The message that got on the local news and reached the suburbs was “If you come to Oakland to see a movie, you’ll get a horrible parking ticket!”. His solution to fines which scare his customers was to get on the news and scare his customers some more? Anybody else see a flaw in this plan?
It gets worse. Michaan has suggested that Oakland businesses close all day this Thursday in protest of the parking fee hikes. This is the single most idiotic and reckless idea he has proposed. We are in the middle of a recession and he is asking thousands of business owners to forgo a day’s worth of income!
What about the employees of these businesses? Will they get a paid day off, or will they lose a days work and wages? What good would a one day strike do, other than to bolster Mr. Michaan’s ego? Council is in recess and it will be at least six weeks before they can respond to the parking grievances at a meeting. By that time any silly little strike will have been forgotten, but anybody who participated in the strike will still be out hundreds if not thousands of dollars. For nothing.
This short-sighted and reckless pursuit of self-interest is nothing new for Mr. Michaan. A few years back, he organized an attempt to shutdown the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market at Splash Pad Park. Why? I am not making this up: because the patrons of the market were using too much parking, and he saw this as a threat to his business!
In a campaign related to his attempt to shut down the Farmer’s market, Allen Michaan successfully lobbied the council to remove fees for parking in the city lot under 580. He managed to get subsidized parking for his entire commercial area. So not only is he screaming all the wrong tactics to his followers, he also is complaining of persecution when his area already has a parking subsidy provided by the city. In fact, the Grand/Lakeshore area has more available parking than any other neighborhood retail district in all of Oakland.
So if Allen Michaan has little factual basis for complaining, and if his tactics are ham-handed at best, why is anybody listening to him? Why did 84 people show up at his meeting? Why did guest after guest at that meeting step up to the mic and scream and yell about how much they hate parking tickets.
Easy. They hate parking tickets. I do too. There’s a sense of powerlessness you get from them. You can’t blow up the DMV, and you can’t refuse to pay, or the ticket goes up, and if you wait too long, they’ll boot you. It’s frustrating as all hell. Believe me, I’ve been there.
I believe that the increased fees are necessary, and that the increased fines may also be necessary. But I also believe that the head of the parking department bungled the transition to these new fees and fines by going on an enforcement bonanza the day after the new rules went into effect. A better council resolution would have issued a directive to phase them in gently to avoid a political backlash.
I don’t know if the enforcement blitz was a departmental decision by Noel Pinto or a directive from City Administrator Dan Lindheim, but either way, someone in a non-political job made a decision without weighing the political consequences. This has given Allen Michaan a great deal of ammunition. Michaan, regrettably, is using that ammunition to shoot himself and his neighbors in the foot.
What to do about all of this? Well for starters, if you’re pissed off about a parking ticket, take a few deep breaths before you hop on Allen Michaan’s bandwagon. His proposed strike will do more harm than good. I strongly urge local businesses to completely ignore the strike and to stay open. Please realize that Michaan’s proposed recall of the entire council is an empty threat and is so naive that it seriously damages his credibility as a leader.
I also urge folks who were upset by the initial parking blitz to realize that the City apparently got the message. When the meters were extended to 8pm, parking enforcers handed out warnings instead of tickets for quite a while. There also seems to be consensus that for 1 hour and 2 hour spots, after 5pm you will soon be allowed to buy the spot all the way ’til 8 when the meter closes. There are other possibilities for practical reform that I’ll discuss in a post when Council is back in session and something can actually be done. It will be a little while before any parking issues can come before the council, so there’s time to think, get it right and make it workable.
But for now, lets all chill out and realize that Allen Michaan is a pied piper who isn’t going to lead us anywhere except to bitterness and disappointment. His tactics are crass, his logic flawed, and his motivations seem selfish. I urge the council to ignore him completely and tell his followers to pick another leader with some manners if they want to be heard at all.
Max Allstadt is a Carpenter, Musician and Activist living in West Oakland