Guest Editorial: Expensive parking does not promote business

By Glen Rasmussen

The businesses in La Jolla face an important decision in elections being held this week for half the seats of the Board of Directors of Promote La Jolla (PLJ), the entity that operates the Business Improvement District.

PLJ was featured in last week’s Light including a nice full-page photograph of President Deborah Marengo and Vice President Peter Wagener. They are up for re-election. It is interesting that PLJ’s anniversary publicity coincides with their election.

But do the business members of PLJ want “business as usual” including, as they have publicized, unanimous PLJ board approval for paid on-street parking in the Village? Most of us recognize that businesses in La Jolla are having a tough time; rents are high, streets are dirty, sidewalks are cracked - evidence of more than a decade of poor planning, deterioration and neglect. What’s the solution? PLJ says more money is needed: From where - the residents? Tourists we are trying to attract? More money is the solution to all our problems, they say.

Alternatively, the businesses, independently of PLJ, can and are exploring if they have a consensus to try self-imposed maintenance assessments. This would be entirely voluntary, not the “Hang Onto Your Wallets” scare tactic PLJ put in its recent newsletter, hoping to dissuade an alternative solution to paid on-street parking. We also need more and better trash cans and to get rid of all those ugly plastic racks of non-news publications.

La Jolla, being a community of the city of San Diego, depends on volunteers to carry out many of the decisions delegated by the city, including how to promote La Jolla businesses. The good works of volunteers should not be discounted, such as the hanging baskets, bench program, employment of the Urban Corp to clean streets after the weekend, etc. mentioned in last week’s piece. But instead of moving forward with a plan that is supported by a majority of businesses, the existing PLJ board is supporting a revenue-generating plan where residents and tourists will pay to park while they shop, play and stay in La Jolla.

The La Jolla Community Parking District Advisory Board, staffed by three positions delegated by the PLJ board, plus one delegate each from the other community groups and two at large members appointed by Councilman Peters for a total of nine members, working for 1 1/2 years, has evolved from their March1, 2007 “Proposed Parking Management Framework,” a “9/11/07 Draft-Proposed Pilot Parking Program,” that if adopted will implement paid on-street parking in a pilot program for one year. The stated goal is to charge the lowest possible but variable parking rate (payment to “pay-and-display” boxes that take credit cards) in order to maintain 10-15 percent availability of parking spaces on each affected block, encompassing Fay through Ivanhoe streets between Prospect and Kline, Prospect, Jenner, Coast Boulevard, and time limits in the adjacent residential areas of Ivanhoe East, Exchange, High, Virginia and Park Row. How much will residents and tourists have to pay, for example, to park on Prospect Street, such that there are 10-15 percent of parking spaces available at any given time, when we don’t have reasonably-priced off-street parking? The rates will vary depending on the time and where the space is. Residents can buy exemption permits from time-limited spaces only.

Peters says he’ll push for 80 percent of the money generated from the boxes to stay in La Jolla, if we have concrete plans on how to spend it. This has not been planned yet. Peters terms out in 2008. We would have to count on his successor to influence the city to cede this revenue to La Jolla.

The problem is that neither PLJ nor the parking advisory board will listen to the residents and a majority of businesses who do not want paid parking, because they believe this will hurt businesses and forever change our Village character, which (along with the beaches and views) is why we live here. Is it laudable to try to regulate and tax the parking of cars like we do the smoking of cigarettes?

There is no consensus for paid on-street parking. The resident-supported offices and businesses (where you keep appointments, shop and eat in La Jolla) have not been polled by PLJ except in a poll asking if they are tired of dirty streets and cracked sidewalks. Of course we are. A big part of we are not represented on the current PLJ Board that is supporting this move.

Local businesses collected almost 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing paid on-street parking - this point of view is being disregarded.

Do we beautify the Village at the risk of hurting the businesses more? Is there a viable alternative? The PLJ board needs balanced representation, to include resident-supported businesses rather than just the tourist-oriented businesses. Because their voting power is weighted based on assessments, many businesses are disenfranchised on the current board. Without voted-in resident-supported business representatives, PLJ follows its charted course.

The “Parking Management” goal is really a revenue-generating mechanism. It has very little to do with parking management (10-15 percent vacancy on Prospect?). Neither the Framework nor the pilot program contains any proposal for what might be the “substantial public benefit” that would justify paid on-street parking. General, unprioritized goals are listed - of higher-tech enforcement and hours (for which PLJ chastised the La Jolla Town Council for suggesting this ought to be the first priority tried to better the parking abuse situation), better signage, bus-pass and van-pool subsidies, beautification and, last on the list, expanding parking inventory.

I have seen no study about the cost or buildability of a garage on Village property, which is about as expensive nationwide as land gets, how it would be funded (from paid-parking revenue?); most importantly whether you want to pay for it every time you come into the Village to park, and whether you would do so or go elsewhere to shop.

The new PLJ candidates care very much what happens to the businesses supported by the residents of our Village. We would like Fay, Girard and Prospect to have a vibrant night life so there’s more to do when you’re done eating, instead of walking around looking in closed windows. While we appreciate the volunteer efforts that have come before us, more sensitive, thoughtful direction is needed, and that would come from listening to the residents and businesses of La Jolla. It is time for a new approach, with new faces and ideas.