Sunday, August 6, 2017

No plan for more parking

Last week we had a meeting in Temescal to discuss the parking situation, which is not good and not getting better and there is no plan to make it better. 

Our lead speaker was Michael Ford, Parking Manager from the OakDOT, our Oakland Department of Transportation. 

He held up a copy of Don Shoup’s The High Price of Free Parking and declared himself a proud “Shoupista” and went on to give his presentation. 

The plan is to make the price of parking so high that there will always be spaces available to those who can pay up. How high? Well it should be raised until there is always about 15% of the spaces available. Ford described pulling up and having parking available, he did not describe where the people who did not come and park had gone. 

In his presentation our Parking Director called this process “creating parking”. 

Now I am a radical environmentalist, bike riding, Green Party activist and I strongly believe in spending on mass transit, conversion off of fossil fuels and radical reduction of automobile use. 

I don’t see how driving poor people out of their cars will help. 

I also don’t see how having people decide not to park here and drive to another area will really reduce car use or help our local economy. This question was asked very clearly and did not receive any answers. 

In this meeting we got some upsetting news. To start with they handed out a survey results on parking situation in Temescal as they describe it. The map showed that the survey applied to upper Telegraph, the back streets going towards the freeway and one block east into the residential areas east of the commercial strip. It was basically a circle around the business strips and the residential areas that could be used for business parking. Our neighborhoods were “out there”, not surveyed. 

One nearby resident took a quick glance at the map and declared it to be inaccurate even in the limited area it covered, in which this resident lives. That, at least, was acknowledged. We got the normal disclaimer that the information on the map is dated (only five years) and “everything” is so different now and before we do anything we need to do a new study ….. 

According to Mr. Ford he has to balance the parking for three groups:
1 Commuters,
2 Business clientele and
3 Residents. 

After saying that he went on to describe a situation that went about 75% restaurant and shop clients and 25% residents and when it came to talking about what can be done for the people who work here, we talked about something done in another neighborhood as maybe a good example. 

For the business clients, the only thing put forward was raising the prices of parking where it is already over filled. “Price mechanism” was the euphemism and details were scarce. What was clear is that they plan to implement this kind of different price schemes in downtown Oakland first. 

Temescal is on the list as being next because they have a “history”, meaning the study that led to the map that they were handing out. 

For the residents there was only the suggestion that people get neighborhood restricted permitted parking. 

And again, for the people who work in our thriving restaurant and shop district, not one practical thing was offered. 

By creating parking we did not mean any space that was not parking before becoming parking now. We were not talking about the new construction all over our area putting more cars off the street. 

We mean driving client cars out of the commercial district using high prices and we mean driving employee cars out of the neighborhoods with residential permits. 

Then Ford went on to wax poetic and revel in the irony that the City Charter clearly states that parking enforcement dollars should go to pay for parking structures. He seemed to be bemused by the fact that this is not getting done. 

One of the local property owners has already let this crowd know that as a private developer he cannot get a loan for a private parking structure as long as there is free parking nearby, and by that we mean the free parking lot between Walgreen’s and the Post Office in that plaza at Telegraph and 49th. Our BID board president made this point seeking some kind of engagement of the issue.  

There was no discussion of seeking a resolution of either of these roadblocks so we have an area going high rise without a parking structure even being considered anywhere in the district. 

What was offered, some by Ford, and some by attendees, was reasons why other people should not own their own car. There was some ugly stuff about people who leave their cars in the area for a long time and never drive them. Michael Ford told his own disdain story about a woman who wanted to start a residential street parking program near her new home in the MacArthur Transit Village and had two cars; one she keeps in the space provided, and the other she needs for work. 

Now there is part of me that thinks it fine if people are using their cars less and taking transit and I did not hear of any plan to help them have a place to leave that car behind. The practical message was to either own an off street space, or sell your car. 

We got a lecture about the cost of ownership of a car, as if people don’t know what their most expensive possession other than a home means to their budget. Others asked about workers who cannot afford the time to take transit because they need to get to do things like pick their kids up from school where there is no transit or go home where there is poor transit. 

Nothing they answered seemed to have any practical value to me. This meeting left me with nothing I could say to a local employee that might sound like a practical solution getting to or from work with or without their car. 

We heard a lot about how the plans were going to be flexible, and that there were twenty different things that the parking policy could do for us, but when the discussion became specific the plan was clearly always going back to raising parking meter costs, expanding metered parking zones, maybe putting in residential parking permit areas and then do more studies to do the same in other areas, ours included. 

This is where I drilled in on the other OakDOT representative, Danielle Dai. 

She was talking about these studies and I asked about the danger of asking questions that bring about a foregone conclusion and always come up with higher priced parking meters as an answer. So I wanted to know about the methodology. Have we done a census of the local business employees? (Not just count cars on the street). Will they survey residents on what their needs are and how they could be better served with parking rules? 

After some very common waffling I asked her point blank if the OakDOT had the resources to do the kind of studies that they really needed to re-engineer our parking and traffic and the answer was a clear no. 

“No” is also the answer to the question “Is there going to be any more parking?” 

“No” would also be the answer to the question: “Is there an overall plan?” 

There is no comprehensive plan. What we have is different groups pushing around public property, bits and pieces of transit and the odd ad hoc arraignment as if each action was some determinant influence over a market mechanism that will sort things out for us. 

We know that plan. That is the plan that usually hurts those with the least money. 

The only mention of more and better transit was the extension of the bike path and the B Bus. That the B Bus ever started without connecting the train station to BART or filling in the difference between BART stations, combined with neglecting the Grand Lake area, kind of makes one ask “what problem they are trying to solve”? Have they heard of Emeryville? They have a shuttle and one line runs from Amtrak to BART. 

Others asked more questions about the spate of new housing going in all around us and we got another set of philosophical answers justifying insufficient parking in those new buildings. Most of the answers were about how people in these new buildings should adopt a new lifestyle, and there was no clear idea if these new, affluent residents would actually forego car ownership or what that actually should look like. Will a sufficient number of our new residents not own a car to make it work or will they end up using more of the already overcrowded street? Was not owning a car a requirement for anyone moving in? 

Again there was little to nothing said about those who might make less use of their car and instead ride a bike or take transit, such as myself. Where are we supposed to leave our cars behind? Since I own a shop large enough to park that car off the street, I can do that without having to deal with the street sweeping, broken car window break-ins and predatory parking tickets in front of my home. 

I rode my bike back from this meeting knowing that I can do so because of my social privilege, feeling that the parking plans will cause more hardship among the people who live and work here and drive potential clients away from local businesses.


  1. this is brilliant. Thank. I live on 48th across from an ugly monster new apartment building which has totally ruined parking on our block.

  2. Thank you for your blog! I live in 41st and broadway. I and my other neighboors attended a similiat meeting back a few months ago where Mr. Ford had done a similiar presentation. Once again, there were more questions than answers. On of our neighboors asked why not put a parking structure where golden rod plans to put a biergarden. Once again the answer was the cost. These new luxury condos, the one on the corner of my house is supposed to have 25 car spaces for the 47units they planned to build. But walking by that job site, i didnt see any spaces for parking at all. From the meeting i had mentioned earlier, Mr Ford had mentioned that oakland was trying to be as car free as possible. Which, i believe would be impossible.

  3. This is ridiculous and judgmental of Mr. Ford. We live locally and have 1 small car for a family of 4. We have to street park bc we don't have a driveway or garage. We try to bike and walk as much as possible and pull our kids in the bike trailer (they can't bike long distances on unsafe roads yet, being only 4 and 1) but I like owning a car for the times when one parent may have to do both day care pick ups and drop offs on our own and leave work early enough to do so. It would be nearly impossible to leave work on time and walk/bike to all the pick up locations. A car is sometimes needed in this hectic life. With all the construction in the area, my parking options are evaporating. Is he judging me as a working mom for leaving work at 530 pm and needing to pick up two kids by 6pm and saying I should somehow do that either on foot or by PT? Near impossible.

    1. I tried to raise this at the meeting, as did others. We need somewhere to leave the cars behind if we are going to get out of them and we need transit to get us to both ends of where we need to go to be able to do it.

  4. I live near Piedmont Ave and I in Temescal often but I'm in OakDOT's side.

    I sympathize with your concerns but I note that OakDOT is neither taking away anybody's car or taking away anybody's parking space. What OakDOT is refusing to do, is using Oakland's limited taxpayer money to subsidize more parking in Temescal. We have much more urgent needs then that.

    Bart spent $15 million to build 481 parking spaces at MacArthur or about $32K/space. 90% of riders at MacArthur don't park. Those riders subsidize $7/day/stall since each parking space costs Bart more then the daily fee. If people want to park at Bart, that's cool, but why should everybody pay for it?

    The same goes with adding anymore structured parking in Temescal. If somebody wants to build a parking garage fine...but taxpayers shouldn't subsidize it. Let the people parking pay the full cost of parking.

    Oakland simply can't afford to pay people to drive to Temescal.

    1. Well, the City of Oakland has long ago decided that the public space of the roads, which we all pay for and are supposed to all be able to use, is partially their property to rent to us as parking. When that law was written, it included using some of that money for parking. This is hardly a give away or subsidy.

      The BART parking fiasco goes way beyond what happend during the NINTEEN years everything was on hold deciding the transit village design.

      The city also made the agreement to keep the plaza at Wallgreens uncharged. That is what kills funding for private sector parking in an area that now needs it.

      The city is not being asked to pay people to drive here, it is being asked to keep its promises.

      Government is not about being a consumer only paying for what we individually get. The whole point is to work together to make sure as a community we provide what is needed for a healthy society.


  5. Thanks for the feedback, including the critical feedback.

    What has me concerned most is the lack of a big picture and the total lack of the most important component of a public transit system worthy of the name:

    Serious spending on infrastructure.

    For me the parking plans of the City of Oakland is putting the cart before the horse on a series of important issues that are part of our planning and transit dysfunctionality.

    My short list includes these two major process problems:

    1] The lack of a real regional transit authority. (MTC is not really a transit authority, we should look to places like Portland. We have overlapping districts, piecemeal negotiated planning project by project and lots of groups pushing the system for the local short term gain, pet projects and private business initiatives.

    The lack of any structured neighborhood relationship to any kind of transit or development planning. What we do have for neighborhood committees are not elected, do not have a clear area and have no budget, legal authority or any authority over budget, zoning or permitting.

    I am not sure how such a dysfunctional political compromise series of ad-hoc partial fixes ever gets past responding to the mood of the moment or the interests of the economic status quo and in Oakland we are in no danger of that happening. Instead of a government of elected officials we have much of our planning decided by social entrepreneurs and instead of citizens, we have consultations with "stakeholders".

    1. don't know what I did, but I can't get back into this reply to edit my typos.... my apologies.

  6. Hi Don,
    I always enjoy reading your well-thought, clearly written pieces. On parking, it seems to me that most efforts are just ways of re-allocating this very scarce resource. If that's being billed as "creating parking" then that seems like a nomenclature problem. I can see the merit in raising meter rates; when I find a place in downtown Berkeley and it's $3.50/hr, I'm aware that I probably wouldn't have
    found that place if it was cheaper. But I can also see the downside, both for merchants and visitors, and I'd probably see it more clearly if I had less money.

    Regarding parking at the Temescal Plaza/Walgreen's lot, I've heard the argument that "you can't sell parking if they're giving it away next door!" That always seemed like a BS argument to me (wasn't clear from your piece if you were sympathetic to it or not), like saying if only the library wasn't there someone would build a bookstore (even if true,
    isn't it better to have a library? and isn't it better- for everyone but Plaza management- to have free parking?). The fact is the management is obliged to make free parking available to customers throughout the district, as a condition of their Use Permit. This was worked out a few decades ago in exchange for the real estate (the former 50th Street) that the city gave the developer at that time. That is an "in perpetuity" requirement. If we're going to start
    charging for currently free parking, let's start with the city streets (Shattuck, 49th, etc) where at least the revenue will go to the city, not to a private property owner!

    I was really surprised when the BID announced, back in Feb, that it was voting on changes to the Walgreen's lot, as though it had that authority. The BID is a well-intentioned organization (as you know I was president for 10 years) but it really does exist to further the interests of commercial property and business owners. As a current property owner and former business owner, my belief is property owners
    are doing just fine in the district, while many (most?) business owners still struggle. But, as you point out, the interests of local residents and employees really aren't in that mix. The BID really doesn't have the duty or the authority to represent the entire Temescal community.

    One could build an argument in favor of, say, 30-minute rather than 2-hour spaces, but I think to argue for charging for the spaces or making them available to only Plaza tenants would be much more difficult, given the history. But whatever the approach one would have to actually build support for the changes, rather than just announcing them.

    I'm much less skeptical than many about the likelihood of people who live in new apartments with no parking to have built a life around not owning a car. I live in North Berkeley now and it's very clear that many people (including me) don't use cars much. I'll bet that will be the case in the new BART tower, for instance. I don't think many people will pay 3-4k for an apartment, then take pot-luck on parking.

    I'm glad, though, that there aren't a lot of new parking structures being built. I'll bet anyone looking to build or finance a mountain of concrete would want to be looking 25 years down the road to see if demand will still be there. The BART airport connector, which was a boondoggle to begin with, became even more of one with the advent of Uber, etc. I'm skeptical about self-driving taking over in the 10-year
    frame, but I'll bet it'll be making inroads in 20. The sooner the better, for me.


  7. Rick,

    This is a GREAT letter.

    Would you mind if I took out the part where we are talking to each other and put it on the blog as a comment? Or you could do it. Or I could send you what I think is a goo excerpt and let you sign off on it.

    I have written about issues from the school system to the war in Ukraine and this one post on parking got more replies than anything else. Sort of the way my posts on line about any subject get less attention than snapshots of meals I cook. ....

    I am not sure about how good an idea it is for parking to stay free at the plaza, nor how good an idea it is for the city to use parking revenue to build parking but the point is that the city has both of those as legal obligations and neither of them are being met.

    The main point I wanted to make in my blog is that the city plan is no plan, it is a push. Push people off the commercial space with price, push them off the residential places with permits and for people who work in our area, provide nothing. Any real plan would include the people who lived and worked here and their focus was on those who purchase goods and services here. And any plan should include meeting the city's legal obligations, including past promises to the neighborhood groups.

    Roy's story about there not being financing for a private parking structure near the free parking at Walgreens may be a bit out of date given that parking demand has gone up as available parking has gone down. It would be an easy thing to get a bank to tell you if they would be willing to consider financing such a project.

    So far the history of the residents entering buildings with less parking than units has been that there has been more cars on the street. Many are adopting a car free life style, at least before they have kids, but more cars come in that we are asking the builders to accommodate. A car free life style often includes a car this is not often used. Again, there is no plan for where to leave the car if you take the bus.