City Council to take on Oakland’s parking problem
on September 21, 2009
City residents may take some small measure of comfort in knowing their City Council is aware of the discontent regarding the parking measures that went into effect on July 1.
“I’ve been doing this for twelve years and this is a big reaction,” said City Council President Jane Brunner, whose District 1 is North Oakland, where many of the sharpest complaints have been directed regarding overzealous parking enforcement and extended hours. “If you have this big of a reaction you have to listen to it.”
The city council will reconvene this Tuesday, September 22 to discuss, among other issues, the new parking measures. The changes have been four-fold: increased hourly parking meter rates from $1.50 to $2.00, extended parking meter hours from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., increased fines on select parking violations, and stricter enforcement of parking policy.
To many residents, the changes seemed to occur overnight, and with almost no advance notice. “It was pretty sudden–we only had a few days lead time,” said Jill Shira, an employee at Form Vintage Modern, a furniture and antique store in Rockridge, who at one point received two tickets in one week. Shira said many customers have complained about the extended hours, increased fines, and stricter enforcement, but mostly about the tickets that resulted. “It’s like we have to budget now for our tickets,” she said.
“That’s a fair criticism,” said Brunner, referring to the suddenness with which the changes were implemented. “If we made a mistake, that’s a mistake we made.”
Although the changes have angered many residents, Brunner said the decision was not an easy one in light of the city’s budget deficit. “When you’re cutting $91 million, when 85 percent of the general fund goes to police and fire, there aren’t a lot of wasteful spots to find the money,” Brunner said. “You’re cutting real programs.”
Programs and services edging towards the chopping block include further cuts to library hours, a decrease in recreation programs at local parks and the elimination of the city’s park ranger positions. All city employees have already taken a ten percent pay cut for the budget year.
Many Oakland residents and business owners are unhappy with the new parking changes. Looking around the normally bustling Grand Lake retail district, business owners point to empty parking spaces as an indicator of hard times.
“I’ve lost 25 percent in business since the parking went into effect, discounting for the recession,” said Bob Jaffe, owner of The Grand Bakery on Grand Avenue. “I’ve been here eleven years and this is the fewest number of cars that have been in the parking lot. People have changed their habits.”
Marlene Rubain of North Oakland agreed that her habits have changed. “We aren’t as spontaneous,” she said. “If we want to stop and pop into a store to browse, we don’t.” Rubain noted the parking changes have affected her spending habits by forcing her to be more aware of how now driving costs her more money. “I take the bus,” she said, “But since I can’t carry as much I spend a lot less without the car.”
Non-metered parking in the Grand Lake district is only available in residential neighborhoods, which are increasingly crowded with drivers trying to avoid parking fees. “In the evening, people who live here can’t find parking anymore because people are coming over to park for free,” said Sarah Kutner, an employee at Gold’s Gym on Grand Ave.
Many residents acknowledge the city is in a tough spot economically, but the hardest change to accept has been the extension of parking meter hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“A price increase is a price increase,” said Kutner: “It’s the time increase that is the problem. You can’t park for free to go to dinner or a movie anymore. If the city had done it better, I doubt there would be an uproar.”
Council member Pat Kernighan, whose district includes the Grand Lake area, has offered a potential compromise. On her web site, she outlines her plan to “rescind the 8 pm ending time for meter enforcement and go back to 6 pm.” Under her plan, the $2.00 hourly parking fee and increased parking fines would still stand.
While she would like to vote in favor of this proposal, Brunner said she does not see this as an adequate compromise.
“If you cut that money you have to find the money elsewhere,” Brunner said. “I’m just not going to be irresponsible and have another $1.3 million deficit that we don’t know how to deal with.” Brunner noted her staff has reviewed programs to see if cuts could be made elsewhere, but said no answers had been found.
Kernighan’s site affirms if the rollback from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. occurs, the city will need to make further spending cuts. She does not indicate what those cuts will be.
Many residents spoke of the council’s obvious need to attempt to balance its budget in some way. The question will be, are enough people willing to pony up?
“I’m glad the council made a hard decision,” said Oakland resident Miron Murcury. “It’s better than passing the buck and just shutting down services.”
Additional reporting by Lauren Callahan.
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