Thursday, August 14, 2014

Oakland Parking and Joe’s plan.

Joe Tuman has released a parking plan for Oakland.  It covers a few basic things that should have been done a long time ago and really should not be controversial except for the expanded free parking.

It will be though because Joe comes from a Pro-Business perspective and used that language.  Just for that there will be some “pro public” or “pro-public transit” backlash.  Some of our transit advocates are in love with the theories of Donald Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking so any advocacy of any free parking anywhere for anyone will be opposed as some kind of social anathema.  Joe will make Allan Michaan, a solid supporter of progressive politics in Oakland and owner of the Grand Lake Theatre happy with some of his ideas but he will piss off the anti-free parking crowd.

Now we will have two opposing ideas. 

Joe’s plan says Free Parking = Better Retail = Better Sales Tax Revenue. 

The Shoup plans that say Free Parking = Lost Revenue = Parking Scarcity. 

Both ideas don’t really work just through the magic of the market and the claims made don’t have a lot of research to back them up.  In my view that is not possible because bigger factors determine what happens in retail sales and public transit than the price of a parking meter. 

Nobody is going to rush down to Jack London Square because parking is now free at certain times.  Not after the closure the Jack London Center artisan shops and the shuttering of the Old Spaghetti Factory, El Torito, other restaurants, the big book store and Starbucks, and other venues near the square such as Bluesville.  Sometimes I wonder if the planners have ever been on a date.  People have lost a lot of reasons to go to the square or to browse the square area if they are down there.  There needs to be some draw to go and park there for free.  The free part was only part of the problem anyway.  You can get validation for the lot across from Jack London Cinema, and when the movie is over, why stay?

Joe addresses the problem of the high price of tickets in his plan.  Parking hours and high fine costs have been the hassle to avoid in Oakland.  On the other hand, 21st Century driving and shopping habits are not just formed around parking or municipal sales tax boundaries.  Someone who works in Berkley, and lives in Oakland could well stop at the Trader Joes in Emeryville on their way home for all kinds of reasons, including preferences, convenience, price, personal safety, and parking. 

These cross-city-lines retail purchases can be measured, and have been measured.  Oakland residents spend a lot of their retails dollars outside of Oakland and other cities nearby pick up those sales tax dollars.  The balance is way out of Oakland favor.  We lose a lot of tax dollars paying sales tax to other cities for their police, their streets, and their schools.  The sales tax system is as out of date as the horse and carriage.  It needs reform and equalizations should take place on a state level distributing sales taxes allocations by number of residents, not receipts.  When I learned how bad the sales tax system shorts Oakland I started to buy everything I can in Oakland.  I gas up before I leave here, and if I stop at a Safeway, it is an Oakland Safeway. 

Ever hear any Oakland politician talk about the sales tax deficit?  Only Wilson Riles.  Yet it means more to us than all the parking meters we could ever install. 

The anti-free parking side will say that free parking will take away from public transit.  Really?  How does it take away from transit that is not there or not there often enough to be practical?  Are the parking dollars going to be used to pay for transit?  Nope, parking money is not even earmarked for our free B buss. Note that this free buss does not quite run to the train station, does not quite make the bus station, nor the key BART station at MacArthur with its connections to shuttles and the Emery-go-round and does not get to Kaiser or Allan’s Theatre.  I think it does run up and down in front of Rebeca Kaplan’s political ambitions.

As a working man I ask WHO is parking, WHY and for HOW LONG?  There is more at stake here than just stopping long enough to take in a movie at the Grand Lake.  How about if you happen to WORK at the Grand Lake Theatre?  In all these discussions I have heard nothing of parking set asides or transit focused on the needs of employees.  The new high cost of parking and higher costs of tickets have fallen hard on those who can afford it least. 

Working people need to do things such as get their kid back from school.  So after serving you your soya latte they may not have time to do that without a car.  Even if the work has good transit, schools, shopping and other places people need to go, such as home, often don’t.  So working people are usually forced to have a car to have a job and to use a car to keep a job and take care of their family.  Even when they work across the street from BART.  Getting that car is usually the first step to getting that job.  Usually the job does not include parking in central urban areas, even if they work there. 

Another cost has fallen on the working folk hardest and that is the cost of having your car stolen by Parking Enforcement.  Stolen sounds like a harsh word unless you see how it works in practice. 

Here Joe missed an opportunity to expose a scandal.  Maybe he does not know.  In case you do not know, it works like this: 

·         Working people get tickets for doing such things as trying to park near work. 

·         Tickets add up and don’t get paid on time. 

·         The license plate of that car is put on a list. 

·         A & B Towing just takes the car if they see a listed plate without any procedure or warning. 

·         The working person then needs to go pay all the fines in full, and the DMV also gets involved collecting any back fees they have due.  Everything needs to get paid before the car will be released.  This is down on 7th street downtown. 

·         Then the working person needs to get way out to San Leandro Street (in an area with no transit and there is no shuttle from where you pay the fines to where you get the car) and pay exorbitant A & B towing and storage fees.  If things are missing from the car, well too bad.  Sometimes the car has already been sold. 

·         If you give up and just let them have the car, you only maybe get to have the contents back and only if you list them.  You do not get to actually see the car. 

This is only the brief version of the story.  For an idea of how A & B treats working class Oakland residents on the city’s behalf, take a look at their Yelp! Page:

So what might be a good parking plan?  Well, if we want people to leave their cars, let’s figure out where they can leave them.  Such as at home.  Let’s make sure we can use what we have now.  Joe’s ideas fit in there.  Do something for the employees, do something for the customers and take the dollar hungry aggression out of the system.  A&B should be fired and investigated.  The whole process of impounding cars for tickets should be scrapped and the city should collect its bills as others do without extortion. 

And we really need to stand up for some equity in tax collection.  It is complicated, but reform is needed and that only happens when reform is demanded.  City Council should demand reform. The state tax systems short Oakland in a couple of key ways.  Sales tax being one, school funding being another, and before we waste time squabbling over parking dollars we should raise hell over millions of dollars that should come to us via better equalization.  Local government has control over some of the sales tax, and that will be complicated and difficult to figure out.   Not figuring it out is costing us bank.  

Of course we need to be spending on transit.  Not the chump change out of parking meter, but way more than that.  Regions with good transit spend on infrastructure.  Without a regional transit authority with any authority or much in the way of regional government, we will find that complicated too.  The longest journey starts with a single step and that step is a deep commitment to transit.  City Council should be on the tails of AC Transit and BART and every other transit agency riding them for better results.  The B bus is probably not a good idea if it does not fill the gaps between BART, AMTRACK, Greyhound and the other shuttles, but it is a great idea if it ever does.  Demanding better service out of AC Transit should be something Oakland City Council does every day until we get it. 

Now for a personal story.  In 2010 I met Allan and some business owners from the Grand Lake area when Jean Quan, then council finance committee chair, decided to jack up the parking rates and expand the fines.  This was at the same budget where she cut funding to our 80 newest police officers.  Her take on the parking was that if we opposed her plan, we needed to come up with the money some other way. 

I asked “How much money?” without much answer and then filed a public information request.   Eventually I got an answer from the Administrator’s office that had big holes in it.  It did not tell us how much money because some was with the city and some with the Police.  At one point they had the same number as the Gross and the Net.  So, I don’t really know how much we Oaklanders make out of the parking system after costs.  I do know that it is a good business for the outside contractor that does it for us.  My questions on how many cars get towed, how many confiscated, how many returned and how much A&B makes off the deal were referred to the Police as if the Police was separate from the City.  The police sent me back to the same process that I used to file the first request.  I got stonewalled.

I came out against the rate increases mostly for how badly they hurt the employees of city businesses.  I was not in favor of the free parking, but that was overlooked by some of the on-line know it all’s.  I also found that some lefty-greens did in fact feel that any increase in parking meters was good and any opposition to it was to be anti-transit.  Some did not seem to care much how badly the new regulations were hurting working people.   There were class and color lines here and it was ugly. 

To add insult to injury, the city also came out with a plan (now scrapped) to spend 1.9 million dollars for a bike path down 40th street (my street) that would be unsafe and cause us to tear out our meridian gardens.  In these gardens volunteer Frank Snapp and his friends have put in over a decade of work.  Community voices asked for the bike path on a smaller side street, such as 42nd.  We now have a Green stripe and as I understand it, the whole reason for the bike lane stuff was really to get repaving money.  So it was sold to us as being pro-bike, but it was really for auto road repair. 

One blogger called me the Green who was Anti-Transit and Anti-Bike.  I suggest you keep this story in mind when you hear shallow, cheap characterizations of people running for office. 

A short time after that election a homeless woman was kicked out of her car in the middle of the night, in the rain, by the Oakland Police so A & B towing could take her car and leave her with some of her stuff living under a phone pole across the street from my home.  I seriously wonder about the values of the police officer and the tow truck driver, both of whom could have declined to take that car, and the values of our community that allows such cruelty in the name of tax collection. 

There is a lot more at stake here than parking Joe. 


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