Parking Survey Skewed, Say Alta Bates Neighbors

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday February 05, 2008

Neighbors of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center are once again on the war path, this time over an e-mail which they said tipped off hospital employees about an annual traffic monitoring survey held last week. 

Alta Bates—which is required under a city zoning permit to do a parking and traffic survey every January—exceeded neighborhood parking regulations for the previous three years. 

The city’s Zoning Adjustments Board is re-examining the use permit, which was required since the hospital exceeded parking limitations for the third year. The board is scheduled to review the survey results in April. 

In her e-mail, Debbie Pitts-Cameron, the hospital’s manager of public affairs, informed the hospital’s Ashby campus staff that transportation consultants Fehr and Peers would be conducting an annual traffic monitoring survey over a two-week period. 

“Fehr and Peers’ staff members will be stationed at the front door, ED [Emergency Department] door and other locations throughout the medical center and surrounding neighborhood during these few weeks,” the e-mail stated. “They will be conducting surveys of patients and visitors. Please be sure your badge is visible so that you will not be asked to take the survey. You should have received an employee survey at home.” 

Neighbors complained that the message alerted employees about the monitoring survey, subtly reminding them not to park in the neighborhood during that period. 

“Whether the e-mail was deliberate or not, it put employees on notice and consequently they parked elsewhere,” said Peter Shelton, a neighbor. “In fact several neighbors, including myself, noticed a marked decrease in employee parking in the Bateman area for the last ten or fifteen days. Most of the usual suspects, the employees we recognize and whose cars we are familiar with, have been missing. I am sure they will return next week, like they did last year.” 

Last January, neighbors denounced what they said was an effort by the hospital to influence the results of the parking and traffic survey by reducing the number of employees parking in the neighborhood on the days of the survey.  

The hospital spent $70,000 to conduct another survey. 

City officials told the Planet that both surveys had yielded similar results. 

According to Pitts-Cameron, the message was a repetition of what has been sent out to employees since the hospital began its monitoring efforts in 1997. 

“It is important to notify employees as to why they are being stopped to be surveyed,” she said in an e-mail to some neighbors and city officials. “Each year I get calls from many employees, patients and visitors who feel harassed by this process. This is not new and if it skews the results this year, then it has skewed the results every year since we began the process ten years ago.” 

She added that the decrease in the number of cars parked in the neighborhood could mean that valet parking—one of the measures introduced to address the parking violations—was working. 

“If neighbors choose not to trust the process or the medical center then so be it,” the e-mail said. “We will not redo the study as this is exactly what I send out every year!” 

Bill Cain, another neighbor, called Pitts-Cameron’s response arrogant and unacceptable. 

“There should be punitive measures taken this time against Alta Bates for messing with the results,” he said. “The fact that the hospital has exceeded numbers repeatedly in prior years should be enough for substantial, neighborhood-agreeable modifications in their parking program.” 

Both Cain and Shelton stressed the need for repeating the parking survey at a later time, and without prior knowledge of the employees. 

“It is a violation of trust, fair play and common sense,” said Shelton, adding that the neighborhood would vigorously challenge the results. 

Wendy Cosin, the city’s deputy planning director, said that the e-mail had informed hospital employees about the traffic monitoring survey and not the parking survey. 

“I don’t know if that will skew the results,” she said. 

Cosin said she was talking to the Berkeley Police Department about enforcing the two-hour parking limitation on hospital employees who park in the neighborhood. 

According to residents, hospital staff go to great lengths every day to move their cars every two hours to avoid tickets. 

“I have seen guys wearing scrubs covered with blood come out from the hospital just to move their car from the front of my house,” Shelton said. “Some of them even rub off the chalk marks that parking enforcement officers put on the tires of cars illegally parked in the neighborhood. The city simply needs to figure out a way to enforce the two-hour limit.”