Public Comment

Commentary: Where Has All the Parking Gone? By ED YOUNG

Tuesday February 21, 2006

Have you noticed there is a concerted effort on the part of the city to eliminate public parking? The idea of demolishing one of the best downtown parking lots (Hink’s) in the city, and replacing it with scores of housing units that have half as much parking as they will need for themselves and none for the public. Brilliant! Oh, and while we are at it, let’s eliminate half of the parking lot for the Ashby BART station (does anyone really use BART anyway) and install more housing and businesses, using the same model of no public parking. Is the strategy for downtown revival to provide a captive audience of shoppers within these housing developments only and to heck with shoppers from the rest of the city or other areas of the East Bay? Have you ever tried to find parking downtown on a rainy winter evening to do any shopping? And we wonder why businesses are closing and leaving? 

Where do all the extra cars park from the new housing developments, BART commuters, shop owners and employees, and shoppers? That’s right, in your neighborhoods. In addition to this growing problem, there is another one that is becoming more evident as we try and analyze where to park our cars: the problem of households accumulating more cars than they have drivers or off-street places to park those extra cars.  

I am very much interested in having the City Council discuss and perhaps publish for distribution as an agenda item, this topic for open discussion at the next City Council meeting. 

The topic is “Too Many Extra Cars in the Neighborhood.”  

At the Feb. 7, 2002, Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association general meeting, I related the issue in a rhetorical question that really is how bad things have deteriorated and how little has been accomplished.  

“If a household has more vehicles than drivers, and these vehicles are not parked in that household’s driveways or garages, but parked on the streets, in front of their and their neighbor’s houses throughout the neighborhood, is this being considerate of the neighbors or the neighborhood?” 

The obvious answer is “No!” This is just how selfish, thoughtless, and irresponsible we have become with respect to our automobile addiction. The issue is not just the consideration of being able to park in front of your own house. Because those of us that actually do use our garages are at risk of not seeing oncoming traffic as we back out because invariably there is the ubiquitous, and voluminous Stupid Useless Vehicle parked on the street blocking our view.  

Our love affair with the automobile has morphed into a full-blown neurotic co-dependant relationship, with people, neighborhoods, and the environment as the ultimate casualties. Ironic how we as Californians espouse the virtues of healthy outdoor living and clean air, but flock to car dealers for the latest, biggest, rolling eco-criminal vehicles the automobile industry has to offer. We swallow those ads hook, line, and sinker. Those poor pathetic posers who derive their persona through their vehicle, or worse yet, collecting vehicles believing this gives them some sort of class or status. No one ever lost money overestimating the stupidity or ego of the automobile buying public.  

My challenge is this, Berkeley: Let your councilmember know what a problem this is in your neighborhood and come up with a win-win solution to rid this city of the extra vehicles. If your idea can generate income from the scofflaws that litter the city with their extra cars, so much the better. Maybe if the city sees a significant public outcry, they might actually put some energy into your solutions. In a city whose public sector has enormous intellectual resources, can we as neighbors, intelligent human beings, work to some kind of reasonable solution to this epidemic, or do we need to use existing and new city and/or state ordinances to bring about responsible change? If we can accomplish this, just think of the possibility of pressuring the city and merchants to have their employees use mass transit and not monopolize parking in our neighborhoods. First things first.  

This city deserves better than the look of a less desirable high density, industrial/commercial auto row district. As a 40-year resident of Berkeley, and 20 years in my neighborhood, I have seen this problem grow and the desirability of my neighborhood decline. In my one block alone, four households contribute seven extra, not regularly used, vehicles to the street. We can do better.  


Ed Young is a certified green building professional with 10 years of service in the environmental community in Berkeley.