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La Jolla, Aspen comparison is confused

By Karl ZoBell

As most La Jollans know by now, there is a move afoot to install parking meters (or solar powered 21st century devices which will charge you for parking, if that makes you feel better) in La Jolla. The Parking Meter Advocates (PMAs) are small in numbers but zealous in their cause. Like rust, they never sleep.

At every single public meeting held to discuss this issue, an overwhelming number (usually at least 90 percent) of those present vote against any pay-for parking on our public streets. Doesn’t seem to matter to the PMAs. They evidently believe that they know more, and better, than the rest of us.

One of the reasons that they think they know more is that they have consulted some “experts” familiar with what happens to a town when you install parking meters. Their favorite example has been Aspen, Colo., from whom they have imported Aspen PMAs to tell us why we ought to give up our old-fashioned ways and embrace parking meters here.

Now ordinarily, I wouldn’t think that Aspen and La Jolla have a lot in common, or that arguments based on one would be relevant to the other. Aspen is in the Rocky Mountains. It has a year-round population of about 5,000, with peak winter visitor/tourist numbers of more than 25,000 per day. It is a resort community.

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La Jolla is a seaside residential community. We have a residential population of perhaps 45,000 (nine times that of Aspen), and we enjoy visitors and tourists throughout the year, who add vibrancy to the community (and help sustain our retail stores, our hotels and restaurants). The number of visitors at any one time probably never exceeds 5,000 (and nothing close to that, unless you count the crowds on La Jolla Shores on July 4).

In other words, Aspen is La Jolla upside down - a veritable “anti-La Jolla.” We are a residential community, which welcomes visitors. They are a resort community, which tolerates its residents. Aspen has parking meters. La Jolla doesn’t.

Why are we meant to think that adding parking meters to Girard, Fay, Herschel, Prospect, etc. would be a good thing? We are told that in Aspen, certain retail property values have increased significantly because of the parking charges (??) and that there is a nice flow of parking revenue to help the city fathers pay their bills. What else has been changed?

In a September 2007 Wall Street Journal article about Aspen, we are told that: “But now city leaders are worrying that the high living is destroying the exclusive small-town allure of their former hippie hangout and mining outpost. Aspen’s more modest-living, year-round residents have looked on in dismay as a flood of luxury retailers have replaced their unique independent shops, which no longer can afford the lofty rents.”

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The article also tells us that “Aspen’s 20-block downtown now counts 24 jewelry stores ... "

Let’s see, if we multiply 24 by nine (the relative size of the villages), we gather that La Jolla should or could have 216 jewelry stores. Is that what we want?

The Journal article goes on to tell us that the city of Aspen is “mulling subsidizing at-risk stores deemed ‘essential commercial uses’, like pharmacies and laundromats.” And bookstores? And hardware stores?

The resident-serving businesses in Aspen are being forced to close as the visitor-serving jewelry stores and chain stores move in. Maybe Aspen really can teach La Jolla some lessons. Be very, very afraid, La Jolla, because this is what the PMAs want to do to you.