You are all, of course, aware by now that in a few hours, the Oakland City Council will consider a proposal from District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan to rescind the Council’s June decision to extend Oakland’s parking meter hours until 8 PM (PDF):
I proposed that Council vote to roll back the meter enforcement from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. That is the aspect of the parking changes that seems to be causing the biggest problem for most people. We heard from many people who were deterred from doing or going out to dinner in Oakland by the cost of the meters and the risk of getting a ticket. Our neighboring cities do not charge for parking between 6 and 8 pm, so we are placing an extra challenge on our restaurant and small businesses by doing so.
It is certainly true that it’s hard to avoid hearing people threatening to go out to eat in Emeryville instead of Oakland from now on because of the later parking meter hours. These people, of course, must not actually be going to dinner in Emeryville, because if they had done so, they would of course know that Emeryville’s meters run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is also true that it is common to hear people promising to drive to Walnut Creek to go shopping instead of Oakland, in protest of the meter rates. These people, too, are either lying or completely irrational, since a trip to Walnut Creek doesn’t actually save anyone any money. I know lots of people who do choose to shop in Walnut Creek instead of Oakland, but none of them do it because of the parking – they do it because Walnut Creek has stores to shop at, and when they go out there, they usually complain about what a pain the whole trip is. I have to say, the part of this whole parking meter mess I find most surprising is how little value people claim to place on their time.
In any case, Kernighan further proposes replacing the estimated $1.3 million in lost revenue from rolling back the meter hours by increasing enforcement against the improper use of disabled parking placards (PDF). Her memo suggests that such action could bring over $1 million a year in revenue to the City:
The revenue that could be generated by eliminating even half of the abuse of the disabled placards could yield a substantial amount of revenue for the City. Based on operating hours from 8 am to 6 pm, at $2.00 per hour, six days a week, each metered space should generate $20 per day, or $6,120 per year. At 85% occupancy, the meter would generate $5,202 per year. If increased enforcement deterred the illegal use of the placards by people who are not actually disabled and 250 parking spaces were freed up for paying drivers, this would generate an extra $1,300,500 per year in revenue for the City.
Whether Kernighan’s back of the envelope calculations about the revenue such a step could create are correct or not, I don’t think you’d find many people willing to say they disagree with the proposal. After all, even with all the complaining about tickets and hours and meter rates going on, the most common complaint I still hear about parking is that people can’t find any, and many residents are quick to blame the high number of disabled placards for at least part of the problem.
However, considering all the devastating cuts that have already been made to core City services this year, and also considering that we all know there will likely be substantial further cuts necessary in a few months, it seems, in short, completely insane that we would use any extra money we might be able to bring in to give away public space to cars, rather than using it to either restore some of the serious cuts that have already been made, or to prevent future cuts.
After all, there are many good policy reasons to price parking appropriately. When meters are underpriced, street parking spaces get hogged by employees, rendering them unavailable for customers. Similarly, free evening parking in commercial districts will often be used by neighborhood residents, which again, makes the spaces unavailable for restaurant patrons. Appropriately priced parking will ensure at least some empty spaces at all times, which of course benefits commercial districts by relieving the congestion caused by people circling around or idling in the street waiting for a space. At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has offered a presentation from High Cost of Free Parking author Donald Shoup outlining some of his work on parking rates (PDF) to inject some much-needed context into the conversation.
Kernighan, of course, acknowledges that there may be legitimate policy reasons to charge more for parking or extend meter hours, but argues that this summer’s changes were made hurridly, and for the wrong reasons (PDF):
There was very little notice to the public of the parking changes…
The problem in this case is that the parking policies that were proposed by City Administration and adopted by the Council were enacted with the sole objective of increasing revenue to the City.
With respect to Councilmember Kernighan, I can’t help but see these claims as a bit of an attempt to revise history. Last weekend, I spent more than seven hours re-watching Council and Committee discussions from earlier this year about changes to parking policies. There were a number of suggestions from staff that the Council declined to adopt, fearing (I personally think, incorrectly) negative impacts to businesses, including peak-hour pricing in certain areas, raising the expired meter ticket fine, and running parking meters on Sunday. They agreed to revisit the measures they did adopt in the fall, once the city had some time to evaluate the way the changes were impacting businesses. And no less than five Councilmembers spoke forcefully at various points about how different aspects of the parking policy changes were sorely needed in their districts.
So although Kernighan was unsupportive of most measures throughout the discussions – from the peak hour pricing to the proposed fine increased for parking at a bus stop to increased enforcement of many violations in neighborhoods – I do not think it is accurate to pretend that nobody had any reason besides revenue to support their decisions. Furthermore, with discussions taking place at many meetings over a period of nearly two months, it is hard to say that there was no public notice of what was being considered. At least two Councilmembers sent multiple messages about the proposed changes to their e-mail lists. If others didn’t, well, they should have. In any case, I see no logical reason why we can’t wait to review the policies until we have actual data about their impact, as was planned all along.
But let’s put good transportation policy aside for a moment. What this really comes down to is what our priorities are as a City. After all, parking is hardly the only thing Oaklanders are paying more for because of the new budget. At the Oakland Public Library, cardholders used to be able to print five pages a day for free, and had to pay 10 cents per page after that. Now, patrons get no pages for free, and have to pay 15 cents per page. Altogether, the cost to print out five pieces of paper for an Oakland resident with no other access to the internet rose from 0 cents to 75 cents. (For those of you who own your own printers and don’t have to deal with these things, that is more than it costs at most copy stores.) The pain of this extra expense for these people, among the neediest in our community, is surely more than that felt by someone who has to dump $2 into a parking meter to go out for a $100 dinner. But the type of people suffering because of these decisions don’t own their own personal billboards.
That’s, of course, just one of many possible examples. Consider, below, one of many possible lists of things that were cut in June’s budget that also add up to $1.3 million, the amount we would lose by rolling back the meter hours.
- Branch library hours reduced by 17.4%: $0.42 million
- Eliminate funding for Senior Shuttle: $0.18 million
- Ground OPD helicopter: $0.25 million
- Elminate 4 positions from IT department related to Public Safety, troubleshooting, and web support: $0.46 million
And here is a list, also adding up to $1.3 million, of cuts that were proposed, but that the Council managed to spare for the time being.
- Close the Main Library 2 days per week: $0.12 million
- Close the San Antonio Recreation Center: $0.09 million
- Eliminate 4 Neighborhood Service Coordinators: $0.3 million
- Eliminate General Fund contribution for Adult Literacy Program: $0.15 million
- Eliminate remaining park rangers: $0.26 million
- Pair Library branches so three branches would be open only 2 days/week and three branches would only be open 3 days/week: $0.38 million
I find it tremendously, overwhelmingly sad to think that free parking means more, to both the City Council, and to Oakland residents, than all of this. The idea that of all the things that changed in the new budget (library closures, decimating losses to the IT department, abandoning maintenance of a huge number of the cities parks, etc.) the absolute worst one, the one thing so bad that we have to rush to take it back, is asking people to pay parking meters for two extra hours a day. Forget all the sweet talk about prioritizing safety and services – the Council’s decision tonight will show us what we honestly think our core functions are.