Parking meters not just “cash cows”: City Council discusses parking demand management

7 Mar

As I mentioned in a previous post about last week’s City Council meeting, the meeting was full of important discussions and decisions. Though most attention has been paid to the zoning update and Energy and Climate Action Plan – and rightfully so considering how long the City and the Council has been working on those items – the discussion I found most interesting was the one on parking at the very end of the meeting.

Here’s what I wrote before the meeting about this item:

Ever since the Council voted a couple years ago to rescind the extra hours for parking meter operation, which had been extended from 6pm to 8pm, they’ve been struggling to fill that budget gap. At the time, they said they’d fill the gap by installing more parking meters. But every time staff proposes actual meters to install, someone complains about them or says there’s not enough parking demand. The problem is that we don’t know what the parking demand is almost anywhere – all of the comments are anecdotal. I hope the City Council instructs staff to move forward with a parking demand study for the City. Without this study, it will always be difficult to install new meters and to figure out how much to charge for parking.

So I was delighted when Libby Schaaf spoke towards the beginning of the discussion, reminding the Council of the parking principles they agreed to in 2009 (before Libby was on the Council). She explained that parking meters shouldn’t just be seen as cash cows and that they should be used to better manage parking demand to help businesses instead of hurt them. She reminded the Council they had asked staff to do a parking demand study and urged that to move forward. She also recommended that parking be moved out of the Finance Department and instead moved to Public Works or elsewhere so it would be very clear to citizens what the purpose of parking management is. Her brief comments are worth watching:


It was so exciting to hear these comments, basically the same argument I and other transit advocates have been making since the whole parking debate debacle began. I was especially happy to hear these comments from Libby, not because I would expect otherwise, but because it reminded me that elections have real consequences and affirmed that Oaklanders made the right decision in electing her.

The main reason there was a lengthy discussion about parking at this meeting is because Councilmember Pat Kernighan had proposed that the new meters to be installed in the East Lake neighborhood charge $1 per hour, instead of the $2 per hour that is charged citywide. She explained that most of the shoppers in that area have low incomes and many are immigrants, and that they could not afford to pay $2 per hour. She argued that the metered spaces would mostly be empty because the demand at that price would not be high enough.

It might surprise some that on a larger level, I agree with her – one citywide parking price doesn’t make sense, as not only are there different income levels across the city, but there are different parking demands in different areas. But I agree with other councilmembers that we can’t just pick districts to decrease pricing in because a councilmember thinks the price should be set at a certain point. We need data to determine where to charge $1, where to charge $2, and where and when to charge more.

At the end of her comments, Pat did say that parking studies are needed:

Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente expressed many of my sentiments, saying that the Council shouldn’t decide to lower parking prices in any areas until a parking study is completed, as that would be and would be seen as inequitable. Echoing the sentiments of pretty much every councilmember who spoke at the meeting, he urged staff to move forward with the parking study so informed decisions could be made.

The full 23 minute discussion is well worth watching. Rebecca Kaplan talked about how we shouldn’t be put in anymore meters that don’t take credit cards, and later on Libby reminded staff that 2 hours on coin operated meters costs 16 quarters, which most people don’t carry around. In the end, the Council voted 6-1-1 to approve the staff recommendations on where parking meters should be placed and to charge $2 per hour everywhere, including East Lake. Pat Kernighan voted no and Desley Brooks was absent.

Overall, I was very happy with the Council discussion on parking. It was mostly well reasoned, and they clearly directed staff to move forward as quickly as possible with a parking demand study. Let’s hope Mayor Quan directs staff to do so. If so, maybe the next Council discussion will be one based on data and one in which the Council can take action to better manage Oakland parking demand.

5 Responses to “Parking meters not just “cash cows”: City Council discusses parking demand management”

  1. newoaktown March 7, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Very nice Becks. Data beats theories every time. Boo Pat😉

    Also, it would probably be outright mean to call him Ignacio de un inebriacion, no? So fun to discuss our political animals… Oakland CCM is my version of People magazine or The Enquirer of which I read neither.

    Is there a report card anywhere which shows how many meetings each CCM attends? How they vote? …

    • Becks March 7, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      Not that I know of unfortunately.

  2. Christopher Kidd March 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Staff should certainly be looking around at the growing number of CA cities that have successfully implemented meter demand management systems, often in their downtowns and business districts. The key was these cities worked closely with the business community and got buy-in on a system where increased parking rates went back into neighborhood improvements and as a guaranteed revenue streams to bond enough funds to build City-owned parking structures to ease increased demand.

    Pasadena and Ventura are two shining examples of extremely successful parking demand management systems that have contributed to downtown and Main Street revitalization.

  3. Hometown grrl March 8, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    I have long favored pricing by demand. I do not think all parking spaces have the same demand, which is why I do not support portable parking slips. And it is about time that someone recognized that people do not carry 16 quarters on them. Hopefully, we can get a study that shows true demand. And if the ppurpose of parking is not clear, I recommend that people watch the Undercover Boss episode with the Mayor of Cincy, who said that the purpose of parking is to facilitate commerce.

  4. Robert March 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    It is a great theory to do the parking study first. However, as you note, it was back in 2009 that the council requested a parking study, and the only thing to happen so far is that staff wrote a proposal. Unfortunately, that proposal was one of the worst documents I have ever seen crafted by an adult. It amounted to little more than “give us a whole bunch of money and we will do something, but no promises about what the study will look like, or even that we would even get a final report on the study”. So if we wait for a city sponsored study to set parking rates, we will never get there. But please do remember your opposition to arbitrarily setting parking rates the next time the city wants to raise rates. At this point, the demand for a study is really nothing but a way to avoid the inevitable realization that parking rates should actually go down in some areas, and decreasing revenue to the city coffers.

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