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Alta Bates Fixed Parking Area Survey, Neighbors Say

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday January 26, 2007

Neighbors of Alta Bates Medical Center denounced what they said was an effort on the part of the hospital on Wednesday to influence the results of a required parking and traffic survey by lowering the number of employees parking in the neighborhood on the days of the survey. 

Alta Bates is required, under a zoning permit from the city, to do a parking and traffic survey every January.  

The purpose is to make sure that the hospital maintains the parking limit allowed by the permit. If too many employees park in the neighborhood, the hospital is required to take additional measures, such as moving some facilities and employees to other locations. 

Area residents told the Planet on Wednesday that they had spotted Alta Bates employees leaving flyers on cars informing hospital staff about the survey—which was scheduled to be held on Wednesday and Thursday—and telling them not to park in the neighborhood. 

“This is clear manipulation of the data,” said Peter Shelton, a resident of Prince Street. “To take special steps on the day of the survey is uncalled for. The whole point of the survey is to see if there is a parking problem in the area. Tampering with the data will leave the survey with no validity.” 

Neighbors were surprised to see the abundant parking available on Wednesday morning. 

A car parked on Prince Street, about a block from the hospital, had a flyer on its window on Wednesday which read: 

“Attention All Employees: There will be a parking survey at the Alta Bates Campus on Jan 22–Jan 26. We encourage all employees to please utilize the shuttle services during this time. The Shuttles transport between campuses, and the BART stations. Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day!” 

Prince Street resident Saskia Dennis-van Dijl said Alta Bates had promised to encourage its employees to park away from local streets for months, but never did until the day of the traffic survey. 

“Lo and behold, this morning at 8:30 a.m. every spot on the two blocks on Prince between Regent and Bateman was available,” Dennis-van Dijl wrote in an e-mail to the Planet on Wednesday. “I have lived in this house for almost ten years—never has there been this much parking at this time of the day.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district the neighborhood is in, called the act ethically questionable. 

“It’s quite disturbing to see that Alta Bates is trying to game the system,” he said. “I am concerned that they are trying to trick people by artificially inflating the numbers. It’s no use pretending that a parking problem does not exist when in fact it clearly does. It’ll definitely be better if they re-do the study.” 

Worthington added that since Alta Bates had exceeded the parking range in 2006 it made sense that they were trying to artificially lower the numbers during the current study. 

“But this will not solve the problem,” he said. “Alta Bates needs to provide free public transport to their employees just like the City of Berkeley does to its employees. Public transit can cost a lot of money.” 

Alta Bates has a garage in Oakland and surface parking on Shattuck Avenue from which employees can take shuttles to work. The garage located at the hospital charges $14 per day for parking. 

Deborah Pitts-Cameron, manager of public affairs for Alta Bates, called the situation unfortunate and said that the medical center will pay for an additional unannounced parking survey at a future date to gather more data. 

“Alta Bates said that the flyers had been left on the cars inadvertently,” said Aviva Laurenti, supervisor for Fehr & Peers, the traffic monitoring firm who carried out the survey. 

In an email to the Alta Bates campus neighbors, Pitts-Cameron thanked them for bringing the action of placing flyers on cars in the neighborhood to her attention. 

“I must apologize for the angst this has created. I was not aware of the flyer verbiage that could certainly be perceived as an attempt on the medical center’s part to manipulate the data,” she wrote. 

PItts-Cameron told the Planet that the action wasn’t an effort on the part of the hospital to influence the data. 

“We have been trying over the past two years to lessen the traffic impact on the campus, including moving services, increasing shuttle usage, working with the city to increase parking enforcement, supplementing that enforcement with our own security, increased transit subsidies and carpool incentives,” she said. 

“It’s kind of unfortunate that we made some hurry-up efforts to lessen the traffic which has raised concerns,” Pitts-Cameron added. “The truth is that all Alta Bates campus employees are always informed of the survey dates. As part of the required traffic monitoring process, each employee receives a written survey at home a few days prior to the survey asking them to note their mode of travel and parking habits. Therefore, the dates on the flyer would not be new information to employees. But we want to make sure that the data is not compromised in any way and will be redoing the survey.” 

The parking and traffic survey that was carried out this week, which will now be redone, cost Alta Bates $70,000.