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Too many questions remain for pilot parking program

The La Jolla Community Parking District Advisory Board sat on stage at the Recreation Center last Thursday night, engaging the public once again on their ideas for managing parking in La Jolla. As usual, they were engaging a public largely consisting of people who opposed their plans for a pilot parking program in La Jolla that includes paid on-street parking in the Village.

Leaning forward in his chair, parking board member Marty McGee said, “We’re here for ideas.”

After the ensuing conversation, which was similar to so many held before, it’s clear the board should have a firm grip of at least two ideas. First: It seems most La Jolla residents don’t want to pay to park. Second: It seems their main objection is they are not sure they will get anything out of it.

The board responded to the familiar refrain from the audience as they usually do: At a gathering that was ostensibly intended to provide the board with input, the board instead spent their time explaining to the audience why the plan they already have put together is the right one.

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And they may be right. The plan could end up providing funds for what is truly the only thing that will help La Jolla’s parking situation - a new parking garage - as well as money to improve the streetscape of the community.

Unfortunately, at the end of a long public comment period that has resulted in no significant changes to the plan, too many questions remain. First, and most importantly, the board has still not told us exactly what we will get for our money.

We think that’s probably because they don’t exactly know. The issue of how much of locally-generated parking revenue would be returned to La Jolla couldn’t be less clear. Current council policy guarantees at least 45 percent of revenue would be returned, but the City Council could change the policy. The policy also says that community parking districts can request a larger slice of the pie on a case-by-case basis, but Council President Scott Peters has said the revenue distribution question would be resolved on a citywide basis, with all of the six community parking districts in the city receiving a similar percentage of their own revenues. Earlier in the process, parking board members said the best way to get beyond the guaranteed 45 percent would be to ask for a specific dollar amount for certain projects - such as a new lot or garage - rather than simply asking for a higher percentage. Then they switched course, and built the pilot plan around a request for 80 percent of revenue.

We think the board is probably confident it will get at least that 45 percent, which, if the program generates the millions of dollars per year they expect it to, would be no small chunk of change. Promote La Jolla, which currently operates on a budget based on less than $300,000 in business assessments, would find itself in control of more money than ever whether the city gives back 45 percent of parking revenues, 100 percent or anything in between.

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But we say that’s not good enough. We think if you’re going to ask the people to pay, we should know exactly what we’re getting for the money. Some people have worried that paid parking would strip the Village of its character; we think that’s a bit dramatic, but the character would change at least a little bit. It would change for the swimmer whose 90-minute daily routine at the Cove would cost $1.50 per day. It would change for the hourly employee who was suddenly faced with the proposition of giving back a chunk of his wage, just to park. Board members talk about employees riding into town on a shuttle paid for by parking, but where are the details for the shuttle in the plan? Is that shuttle going to be running the first day the pay-and-display machines go up in the Village?

And about those machines. The entire proposed plan is based on trusting technology to improve enforcement in the Village, but the plan doesn’t specify what that technology is. We think if we’re going to send a plan to the city, it should be as specific as possible. It should include a picture of the proposed pay-and-display machine, the exact model that we want, so the city can’t pick its own machines on the cheap. Meanwhile, city parking enforcement official Ray Trippi has appeared before the board to denounce pay-and-display machines in general, saying they make enforcement less efficient. What if these new gadgets result in more law-breaking than the current chalk-on-the-tire method?

On top of these pragmatic questions, there are fundamental issues. Do Donald Shoup’s ideas about free parking, which characterize it as a driver of urban sprawl, really apply to La Jolla? Is the entire attitude driving the parking plan - which goes something like, “The Village needs help and we can’t count on the city to provide it, so we might as well do it ourselves” - really the right way to go, or does it only encourage more bad management by the city?

The questions, by now, are likely moot. The parking board may take action on its plan as soon as Nov. 14, and they will probably do so with the idea that no matter how the specifics shake out, the business district in La Jolla should get more money out of parking than it currently does. And with that, it would seem the board would have completed the task the city created it to do when it put the board in the hands of the local Business Improvement District.

The pilot program is probably going to happen - it hasn’t changed much since the board first put it together and we doubt it will. But we can’t support it in its current form. Too many important details are left out that could result in the plan becoming something far different than what it’s intended to be - something that’s already hugely unpopular. At the very least, the pilot plan needs tangible, measurable goals to demonstrate its success or failure. We are highly skeptical that once meters are up and running on La Jolla streets the city will be willing to take them out. Without any kind of measurable benchmarks, the current “sunset” provision looks disingenuous.

The future of any parking plan relies on the ability of the parking board to work with the community and arrive at responsible evaluations regarding the impact of the program on the community. If the parking board doesn’t work well with the community today, what will change in one year?