If Mayor Tom Bates and councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Dona Spring have their way, free evening parking in downtown Berkeley may be a luxury of the past.
Despite negative reaction from downtown neighbors—and the Chamber of Commerce, which objected to the idea the following day—the City Council voted last week 6-1-2 to have staff study expanding paid meter hours until 10 p.m. (Councilmember Betty Olds voted in opposition and councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Darryl Moore abstained.)
The plan would apply uniquely to the city’s “pay and display” meters—the large multiple-space meters that take coins and credit cards—which can be set to charge different amounts for different times of the day and to allow people to park for an extended period of time.
At present, meters cost $1.25 each hour. A recent 25-cent-per-hour hike was put in place to fund various services aimed at curbing inappropriate behavior by homeless or mentally ill people who hang out in commercial shopping areas.
The proposal before the council did not include a specific amount of money to be raised and was imprecise about where the money would be spent: “A portion of the revenues [would be spent on] alternative transit modes and the arts,” said the proposal, signed by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Dona Spring.
On Friday, Julie Sinai, Bates’ chief of staff, told the Planet her office had no further precision to offer on where the funds might be spent.
Capitelli, however, said there were a number of possible ways to spend the money, for example, creating a “free zone” for AC transit buses, a section within the city where people could ride the bus without cost. The funds generated might also pay the salary of an arts coordinator, he said, underscoring, however, that what he wants immediately is information from the city manager on implementation. “I’m not ready to go ahead,” he said.
Addressing the council before the vote on Tuesday, L. A. Wood, who lives near downtown, said he expects that, with the advent of evening meter parking, his neighborhood would be inundated with spill-over parkers.
The councilmembers’ statement provoked an argument about climate change issues: “Berkeley citizens made the bold decision to address climate change and reduce our community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050,” the document says, noting that “gasoline and diesel consumption by automobiles within the Berkeley city limits accounts for about 47 percent of Berkeley’s total greenhouse gas emissions....”
It goes on to quote Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Parking,” saying “cruising for curb parking generates about 30 percent of the traffic in central business districts.” The proposal claims that higher costs for parking would result in more parking availability, and therefore, cut down on people cruising for parking—and the greenhouse gas emissions.
Doug Buckwald addressed the council on the question, saying the “green” argument was specious. He accused the council of making “green” arguments “without making a direct connection” to the question at hand.
While supporting having the city manage the issue, Councilmember Max Anderson said that the revenue stream in Berkeley should not be addressed piecemeal. “We need to have a focused workshop on what we need to do to enhance revenue,” he said, noting that the discussion should include business retention strategies.
Councilmember Darryl Moore, who abstained on the question, said he opposed meter operations in the evening. “I believe it will have a negative impact on business downtown,” he said, noting that parking in Emeryville is just $1 for the evening.
Arguing to the contrary, Councilmember Linda Maio said people don’t mind paying for parking. She noted that “lines to parking garages go down the street” in the evening.
But in a letter to the council, Michael Katz responded to that notion. He said paying for parking at night might work for people spending $50 for a seat at the Berkeley Rep, but, he argued: “Removing free, casual parking keeps away patrons who might otherwise check out a club band, a low-cost theatrical performance, or another low-commitment event, just out of curiosity.”
Bates supported the plan, noting that people use up the parking spaces around the downtown BART station to go to San Francisco. Spring said downtown residents park there overnight.
In an April 25 letter to Bates, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ted Garrett blasted the proposal on several counts: allowing parking for various hours and charging different rates at different times of the day would confuse people; the occasional visitor who gets a hefty parking fine is unlikely to return; people will not use the parking lots in the evening because they feel unsafe; there’s no guarantee where the revenue will be spent and the policy will hurt the city’s efforts to attract and retain business.
For more on this topic:
• “Panel Recommends Raising Downtown Parking Fees” By Richard Brenneman (Sept. 22, 2006) www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2006-09-22/article/25128
• Donald Shoup’s website: http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/
In other actions Tuesday, the council:
• Unanimously denied an appeal for the zoning board’s approval of a biodiesel fuel (used, processed cooking oil) station at 1441 Ashby Ave.
• Unanimously approved a recommendation that city staff collect data on sources of alcohol in alcohol-involved collisions and DUI arrests.
• Voted to delay until May 6 a vote on a contract with Stockton Recycling Inc. and Zanker Road Resource Management to transport and recycle demolition materials. Councilmembers Betty Olds, Gordon Wozniak and Laurie Capitelli voted in opposition.
• Unanimously voted to oppose the Runner Initiative on the June ballot that would increase funding for criminal justice programs by $500,000,000 annually.
• Unanimously voted to sponsor the annual celebration of Berkeley Conscientious Objectors and War Resisters Day.
• Voted 8-1 to increase the city manager’s authority to implement contracts up to $50,000 without council approval. (The present authority is up to $25,000.) Councilmember Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring voted in opposition.