At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the “parking lobby” (DBA, YMCA, various business owners) was calling for an additional level of underground parking at the Oxford lot. Nobody offered to raise funds to pay for this additional construction; the lobby evidently wants the city to compel the developer to cover that cost as a public duty.
As one speaker put it, they were singing the same old song. It’s the persistent refrain that downtown Berkeley is losing business to Emeryville and El Cerrito, where parking is abundant. According to the parking lobby, all customers come in cars, even the people exercising at the YMCA, even visitors to the library. The lobby tells us that the city has an obligation to accommodate each and every car with a place to park.
This sad old song is a wrong song. First of all, there is plenty of parking downtown. One of the parking lobby speakers even had the grace to note that many spaces are taken up by meter-feeding employees. Yes indeed; Betty Deakin’s study showed us that. But then the speaker said these poor people can’t be forced to come by bus. It would cost too much. They should buy a car and get free parking.
Nonsense. Business owners and their meter-feeding employees just need to get out of their own way. All-day parkers should switch to public transit and free up those parking spaces for short-term parking. This was the recommendation of the TDM study, which the parking lobby always ignores, while they continue to sing their sad old song.
Planet Earth is coming to a crisis. We have too many people driving too many cars, filling the air with pollution and driving up the global temperature. A policy of unlimited parking begins to look like dangerous foolishness.
If we must accommodate customers with cars, then at least shift the owners and employees to public transportation and free up those spaces. The cost of that would be way less than building another layer of underground parking. Just set up an agency to distribute bus passes and BART tickets. The DBA could run the agency, or at least fund it. The YMCA could distribute the passes at their front desk.
Global warming is a reality. So is asthma and other diseases caused by automobile-generated air pollution. Do we WANT to kill our children, ourselves, our planet? Will we keep calling for more parking and do NOTHING while our quality of life steadily diminishes? Are we really that dumb? Or is it only the parking lobby?
Our parking-first attitude may soon get a shock treatment from catastrophe. Oil is running out. Greenhouse gas accumulation, any day, could cause a snap-over in Earth’s climate. (Oh no, couldn’t happen. There will be more oil found. We’ll fight for it. Driving is a divine right.)
Some people chuckle tolerantly at the notion of “alternative transportation.” Of course cars are the only way to go. Only the young and athletic can go about by bicycle. Most destinations are too far for walking. We need cars to haul groceries. Buses are for the poor and lower classes. BART might be OK for a trip to the City, for some people. But the simple truth is that people want to DRIVE.
Sorry, the party’s over; we have to start facing reality. Now would be nice.
So what should we do about the Oxford lot? Let’s make the David Brower Center a starting place, where the urban dwellers of Berkeley started the green-city movement, the place where the car culture finally peaked out.
Don’t build ANY underground parking. Limit the surface parking to spaces for delivery, short-term visitors and work-related vehicles. All the ecology advocates in the Brower Center should be ready and willing to come and go via public transportation, if they don’t want to bike or walk.
Of course we could just roll on, one person to a car, each with a smirk on his face. We could build more parking, encourage more cars, more congestion, produce more carbon dioxide. Hey, maybe it’s too late and we might as well just party-on, waiting for whatever snap-over catastrophe global warming will bring, wallowing in traffic and pollution, continuing to consume the last of the oil, burning it into the air.
The parking lobby would be far more credible if they subjected themselves to a special assessment tax to cover the additional Oxford parking— and whatever other parking they desire.
The parking lobby should stop singing their song and wake up to what’s happening.
Steve Geller is a Berkeley resident.