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.”
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