Analyst wants compliance with parking law

By Colleen Valles, The Associated Press
Saturday March 23, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — The state is increasing efforts to get companies with 50 or more employees to comply with a little-known 1992 law that says if the company pays for parking it must also offer cash to those employees who opt not to drive to work. 

A report this week by the Legislative Analyst’s office said more outreach is needed to inform companies that the law, designed to help clean up the air by decreasing the number of cars on the road, even exists. 

About 290,000 parking spaces, or 3 percent of the state’s free employer-provided parking spots, fall under the law, and it could reduce vehicle smog emissions by about 2 tons per day. 

But the law didn’t have any provision or funding for enforcement or keeping track of how much or where it has been implemented. So the analyst’s office has relied for estimates on information from several firms in Los Angeles that implemented the law. 

“I’ve studied the employers who do comply with the law, and the main finding is the employers who actually try it, love it and so do the employees,” said Donald Shoup, chair of the department of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Shoup conducted the studies of the Los Angeles businesses. He found that broader enforcement of the law could save commuters between 5 million and 10 million gallons of gas a year. 

The state’s Air Resources Board administers the program and is currently working on an outreach program, said Richard Varenchik, a spokesman for the board. 

“We are trying to figure out a way to get the word out to businesses that would qualify for this,” he said. “There are a lot of complications.” 

Developers and merchants are the people primarily interested in the program, said Shannon McEttrick, marketing coordinator for Traffic Solutions in Goleta. The organization deals with traffic and transportation issues for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. 

“A shop owner in a downtown tourist attraction spot would probably seek out those kinds of options because every parking space is costing them money,” she said. 

She said the organization points out the law to employers as a way to soften the blow of charging for parking. 

“It’s a great way to implement a parking program where you are going to start charging,” she said. “A lot of people will choose to keep the money and find another way to get to work.” 

But Mike Bullock, the treasurer for Modern Transit Society, an organization that focuses on clean air and improving transportation, said cash out programs such as the state’s would be even more effective if they were implemented on the local level. 

“What the municipalities should do, and the state should encourage this strongly, is they should amend the off-street parking ordinances,” he said. 

The report by the Legislative Analysts’ office said that if the law were more widely implemented, it could reduce vehicle miles traveled in California by 435,000 to 870,000 miles per day, based on a range of 10- to 20-mile roundtrip commutes. 

The report also said that in a survey of San Francisco Bay area commuters, 77 percent drive alone when free parking is available, while only 39 percent drive alone when they have to pay to park. 

In its study of Los Angeles-area businesses, solo driving dropped from 76 percent to 63 percent on average after the law was implemented. 

Companies required to offer cash to those who opt not to drive must employ 50 people or more and lease their parking spaces. They must also be located in an air basin that is designated a nonattainment area for state air quality standards, which the analyst office’s report said was every county in the state except Lake County.