I’m sure everyone has been itching for me to talk about parking, and I’ve been meaning to since last week’s Council meeting, but I’ve been having kind of a hard time of it, partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because…well, do you ever find yourself with so much to say about something that you just get completely overwhelmed every time you try to figure out how to say it? It’s a function of being out of practice, I guess.
Anyway, I’m always advising others that the best way to deal with that sort of problem is to break the pieces out into reasonable chunks, so that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’ll talk about the Council’s parking discussion from their September 22nd meeting in one post, and the proposals from staff and the Council about how to make up the money from the rollback in another. (Here’s the quick version. The Councilmembers pushing for the rollback at the last meeting said repeatedly that they wanted to find any money that would be used to backfill the lost revenue from something else having to do with parking. Staff’s suggestions for how to do so are basically all things they had already proposed during budget discussions (PDF) that the Council already rejected, and four Councilmembers have submitted their own proposal (PDF) in which the bulk of the money comes not from parking, but from adding new billboards.)
But first, I am going to take another go at something I have been harping on for months, which is this ridiculous, and bizarelly widespread idea that the Council secretely extended the parking meter hours until 8 PM without ever telling anyone they were thinking about doing so. This is simply not true.
As I have pointed out repeatedly, the various changes to parking policy were discussed at length both in Committee and at Council. Councilmember Jean Quan included the idea in her June 13th, June 20th, and June 27th newsletters. Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente sent out a message to his e-mail list about the proposal on June 15th. Extending parking meter hours was one of the options on the online Oakland Budget Challenge.
At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan asked that extending meter hours (until 10 PM) be added to the list of items to consider in budget discussions at the Council’s very first special budget discussion on May 13th (PDF). Meter hour extensions were discussed at every single subsequent special budget meeting. Hundreds of people watched these meetings. Each one had hours of public comment. So many people were apparently watching the meetings on KTOP’s feed, that on more than one occassion, people trying to sign on to view the streaming video recieved a message that the feed could not support any more viewers and they would have to wait until someone else stopped watching to get on.
So why didn’t any of those people protest the parking changes? Well, since they all turned out to ask for services to be preseved (many of which the Council ended up cutting anyway), they clearly thought that City services were more important than free on-street parking.
But what about all those business owners who weren’t at the meetings advocating for City services, and who don’t subscribe to Councilmember newsletters? Maybe they didn’t protest because they had no way of knowing?
Nope. The Chamber of Commerce did their damndest to rile people up about the parking changes, and sent out two hysterical e-mail alerts about the proposed changes previous to the budget’s adoption. From the first one, dated June 18th:
As we all know, Oakland faces a massive budget deficit & the Council is looking for any excuse to increase revenue. Among the many options being considered is DOUBLING the hourly parking meter rates to $3! A compromise alternative raises them to “only” $2/hour.
City staff is also recommending drastic increases in parking violation fines – most over 125%.
The Chamber encourages you to contact your Councilmember to share your opinions about how these increases might affect your customers, business, & neighborhood commercial activity. Also, be sure to contact Councilmember At Large Rebecca Kaplan who is a proponent of the $3/hour rate.
The next hearing on this is June 30 when the Council will pass a budget. Don’t delay, contact Councilmembers today!
Both the claims about what the Council was considering were, of course, untrue. Still, one imagines that most recipients of the e-mail weren’t aware of that. A follow-up e-mail was no less hysterical, but at least managed to correct some of the blatant factual errors.
Still, somehow, despite the attempts to generate outrage previous to the Council’s adoption of the changes, none was forthcoming. The only person who could get worked up about the idea of 8 PM meters enough to come to Council and bitch them about it was Grand Lake Theater owner and longtime free parking advocate Allen Michaan.
The bottom line here is that whether or not the meter hours should be rolled back (I don’t think they should, but they’re going to be), it is simply not true that they were adopted without public notice, public discussion, or opportunity for public response. Many, many people had many, many opportunities for input, and choose not to complain.
The reason the Council adopted the, in retrospect, clearly unpopular longer meter hours was not because they don’t care what people think, but because even after much more public notice and discussion than most decisions they make receive, they had no reason to expect people would react the way they have. Why would they? After all, the widespread outrage and ridiculous threats to recall the City Council are not a rational response to running parking meters for into the evening, a practice commonplace in cities throughout the Country. Not just really big cities like New York and Los Angeles and DC. Cities like Milwaukee, Denver, Santa Monica, Portland, Seattle, and even Bethesda, Maryland run their meters after 6. Not to mention our next door neighbor, Emeryville, where meters run 24/7.
Clearly, the Council has to do something about the damn parking meters at this point or the issue will just keep coming back and they’re never going to be able to get anything else done. But it didn’t have to be like this. Annoyances that would normally subside after a few weeks have been blown ridiculously out of proportion by a controversy starved local media looking to make trouble, quick to repeat outright lies told to them by a blowhard with a billboard, and eager to keep adding fuel to the fire every time people get close to forgetting. And in all the furor over parking, all those people who came to meeting after meeting to beg for this service or that service not to be cut and got it slashed anyway appear to have been completely forgotten. Which, for me, is the most depressing part of the whole thing.
If people want the meter hours rolled back, fine. Go ahead and say so. But just because you don’t like a decision doesn’t make it okay to lie about how it came about in the first place.