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Residential permits: The latest front in Oakland’s parking wars?

on December 15, 2009

After controversy earlier this fall, Oakland’s parking conflicts have quieted considerably in recent months. But they could flare up again, as the Oakland City Council moved last Tuesday toward passing an increase in annual residential parking permit fees.

At its meeting last week, the council reviewed a new ordinance that would raise the renewal fees from $20 to $35. After a second review in January, the increase would go into effect immediately.

In September 2008, when the City Council raised fees for the first time in the program’s more than 20-year history, it deemed the program “inefficient.” At the time, the council considered a recommendation to raise fees drastically—from $15 to $50 a year—to help pay for the program, which operates at a deficit. (In the last fiscal year, the program cost the city an estimated $60,000 after all revenue was collected.) After an outcry from residents against the proposed fee hikes, the council approved a more modest increase—from $15 to $20—and asked for a performance audit over the next year.

The residential parking program’s expenses—including parking decals, envelopes, postage and staff time at the rate of $48/hour—account for an estimated $188,000 out of the city’s General Fund every year, according to a recent city report. The program’s revenue falls far below that mark, sometimes not even covering half the cost, which can balloon to well over $200,000 in a given year.

“It blows my mind that we could be that inefficient,” City Council member Nancy Nadel said when the council first considered raising fees in 2008.

“We need to do some homework and cut down costs internally,” City Council member Jane Brunner, who represents North Oakland, said at the time.

Last year, the program collected $130,000 in fees. This year’s renewal fee hike would generate “as much as $60,000 in revenue” over the next year, according the report. Without a full audit, it’s impossible to tell whether that additional money will fully cover the program’s costs.

Although the issue has not been nearly as contentious as it was last year, residents who opposed the fee increases last September have come out of the woodwork again.

“All the same criticisms from the year before are still there,” said Jon Gabel, a Rockridge resident involved in organizing the permit zone in his neighborhood when the program was founded in 1986. “No one knows the true costs of the program. The bookkeeping is so screwed up.”

Gabel also pointed out that the council green-lighted the fee hike without the full performance audit of the program they asked for a year ago. The council had said it would consider the audit before deliberating further on increases.

City Auditor Courtney A. Ruby performed an interim audit in May, in time for the most recent city budget. Ruby said her full audit would be completed in “a couple months,” but not before the January meeting, when the fee hike will likely receive final approval.

“We would want the council to know what the full cost is before they know at what cost to subsidize the program,” Ruby said.

Ruby would not comment on a rumor that the city’s permit program staff do not use computers to process renewals and new applications, which critics say contributes to the program’s cost inefficiency. Nor would Ruby disclose the possible findings of the full audit, saying only that it would include a “full cost analysis” and that “it appears that [the program] is not cost-covering.”

Among City Council members, Brunner was the most vocal opponent of the fee increases a year ago. Some of her constituents did not receive their permit renewals in time last year, and were served with $70 tickets for parking in front of their own homes as a result.

Repeated calls to Brunner’s office for comment on this story were not returned.

Last year, the city organized neighborhood workshops leading up to the city meetings where the changes were considered. But this year, no neighborhood meetings were held. And residents complain they were not properly notified of the proposed permit fee increase, only receiving postcards in the mail notifying them of the change days before the meeting.

“Last year [the City Council] had outreach,” said Gabel. “This year: nothing. They’re just pushing it through.”


  1. Hayden on December 16, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Even the increased permit fees would be quite modest–and, let’s face it, the City has limited opportunities to raise revenue otherwise (I’d prefer an across-the-board increase in property taxes, but Prop 13 nixes that).

    The City’s customer service on parking permits leaves much to be desired–I had to protest a ticket (successfully) after waiting more than 5 weeks to get my permit back in the mail (after I got the ticket, I went to the window in Frank Ogawa Plaza and got it in person–they had my renewal, but hadn’t processed it). Still, that’s better than never being able to park in front of my house due to BART parkers.

    We fill out the forms by hand, but at the office, they always enter the information into a computer, so I assume they have some sort of computer-based system that tracks each permit account.

  2. Jon Gabel on December 18, 2009 at 4:16 am

    Part of the quote you attributed to me is not correct: “The program is not funded adequately”. What I actually said was that no one knows the true costs of the program.

  3. John Grennan on December 18, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Dear Mr. Gabel,

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We’ve corrected your quote.

    Oakland North Staff

  4. SF2OAK on December 18, 2009 at 11:14 am

    So if as Hayden says the city (OAK) has limited opportunities to raise revenue why aren’t they more careful about the revenue they raise? This is really the question for a revitalize3d Oakland. This parking permit bureaucracy being a prime example and only one of many where the city has no idea of cash flows and efficient operations. Of course Ms. Nadel’s mind is blown by discovering inefficiencies a sneeze would blow her mind. Nevertheless in her 3rd term as a city council member she ought to know about how inefficient OAK government is. Since she cares about underclasses and underpriveledged she ought to be in the forefront of squeezing value out of every dollar that comes into the city coffers. This we know is not being done by OAK gov’t as a whole and is repeated in Jon’s comment – “we don’t know the cost of the program.” The fact is prop 13 thankfully put in check what the tax man can take unfortunately all these years later this city has not learned to know where the money goes and what offers citizens value for $.

  5. ralph on December 19, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Hayden can you explain to me like I am 5 year old why all of Oakland should subsidize parking permits. Eliminate the inefficiencies in program delivery and charge the user full cost recovery. The city has limited resources, which should be used to serve the greater good.

  6. Hayden on December 21, 2009 at 2:30 am

    My original post was not clear. I don’t think the City should subsidize parking permits.

    In the same vein, I think the City should spend a little money as possible on things like staff time to get an exact estimate of program costs. Instead, it should do an order-of-magnitude estimate of the program’s costs, then ensure that estimate likely covers the entirety of the program’s costs (e.g., multiply the estimate by a number greater than one), and set fees to achieve that income.

    The point I was (unsuccessfully) trying to make in my OP was my general take that as a percentage of assessed valuation and as a result of Prop 13, property taxes are low in California, and municipal government seems to me to be hamstrung by this cap on a primary source of revenue. That’s beside the point of the parking permit fee question.

  7. tanja baker on January 8, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    i have a valid residential permit for the area B,but still received a ticket because the officer did not see it.i made a copy of the permit,send it in with the ticket and thought that was the end of it.found out that is not the case.the department said because it was not properly displayed (or the officer did not see it,did not look,or whatever that means),i would have to pay!!!!i am outraged! i already paid for the permit! it goes against the initial idea of installing these permits to provide parking for it’s can call it a tax or harassment!

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