Last month, the West Hollywood City Council postponed extending the parking meters along Santa Monica until safely after next March’s election although it was obvious there were four votes to adopt the proposal of extending the meter hours west of La Cienega until at least midnight.
During the city’s budget deliberations the city manager had proposed increasing our law enforcement budget by a million dollars and fund same by extending the parking meter rates until 2 in the morning on the west end of Santa Monica Boulevard. Given that the city had already doubled the parking meter rate, there was a good deal of protest from Boy’s Town businesses and patrons.
Rather than characterizing the extension of the meter hours as a simple money grab, the city retained a high priced consultant to come up with a convoluted rationalization for why extending the meter hours was good thing for local businesses.
The study asserted that after 8 p.m. much of the parking was taken up by employees of local businesses. By extending the parking hours until midnight, there would be more turnover in the parking spaces for patrons, which ultimately would create more parking for local businesses.
Aside from this rationalization being more than a bit contrived and detached from reality, it was pretty obvious that turnover and helping local businesses was hardly the city’s actual priority.
The elephant in the room was the obvious reason the city was extending parking meter hours was to force patrons to use the city’s underutilized and expensive parking structure in West Hollywood Park.
While council members claimed there is a severe parking shortage on the west side of Santa Monica, they failed to remember that they have recently removed at least sixty parking spaces on San Vicente between Santa Monica and Melrose. Given that Boy’s Town is one of the city’s most vital business areas, taking away street parking for any reason makes no sense.
It seemed rather cynical to blame the employees of local businesses for our parking shortage when the city is eliminating parking spaces. Given that it costs anywhere from fifty to seventy thousand dollars per space if you have to build a parking structure, removing the parking on San Vicente represents a loss of millions of dollars. But since the San Vicente parking meters were competing with our new parking structure, the city removed them to force Boy’s Town patrons to pay nine dollars for an evenings parking rather than simply a couple of bucks at a meter.
Only Councilman John D’Amico pointed out that if West Hollywood is trying to keep Boy’s Town relevant by making it accessible to younger people, providing reasonably priced parking was essential.
But the majority of the city council cynically blamed the area’s parking woes on the employees of local businesses. When representatives of Mickey’s and Yogurt Stop provided horror stories of being extorted due to the limited amount of parking available to provide employee parking, John Heilman was dismissive, saying it was not the city’s business to provide parking for employees.
While this is technically true, John D’Amico pointed out that by approving so many new businesses without sufficient parking that the city was responsible for creating a parking shortage that has proved costly to both patrons and employers.
Like much of West Hollywood, Boy’s Town evolved without creating sufficient parking as employees and patrons were allowed to park in residential areas. After incorporation, the city created permit parking zones to protect the tranquility of the adjoining neighbors. While this was the right thing to do, it immediately exacerbated a critical parking situation. If the city wants to keep our local commercial areas vibrant, then the city needs to invest in creating parking and then charge reasonable rates to patrons and create an affordable program for employees of local businesses. The horrific cost for providing employee parking is a drag on our municipal economy. Visionary leaders would recognize that the city needs to be a partner in finding a solution rather than simply shoving the blame for our parking problems on businesses.
As several people testified, West Hollywood has developed a bad reputation for being more interested in ticketing patrons of local businesses than encouraging visitors. The city seems far more interested in money raised via parking tickets than fostering a visitor friendly city. The attitude is "Welcome to West Hollywood, here’s your $63 parking ticket." (It also wouldn’t hurt if the City bought the ticket appeal process in house so that you could actually deal with people who understand West Hollywood).
Even the city’s revenue estimates were suspect. Transportation Commissioner Scott Schmidt pointed out the staff projected a million dollars in income when the recommendation was to extend the meters until 2 a.m. and then quoted the same figure when the hours were shortened to midnight. Obviously those estimates raise suspicions as to the competency or veracity of staff.
The under estimating of revenue is an old accounting trick that the city uses so that our finance department always looks good. The only upside to under estimating revenues is that it gives the city council fewer opportunities to squander money.
Aside from the rather heavy handed attempt to force patrons into our new parking structure, my other issue is the way the city conditioned the much needed increase in our law enforcement budget on the meter increase.
During the budget process, the million dollar increase to the law enforcement was something of an afterthought. Ideally the council should calculate the cost of providing the level of law enforcement that we need as a priority. Instead it came after the council added $100,000 to our arts program budget and created a new Special Events Manager position that will cost the city approximately $200,000 annually. Ideally these less than priority items should have not taken precedence over providing sufficient funds for public safety. Indeed when you throw in the nearly $100,000 we paid for the rainbow cross walks at San Vicente, these "extras" total almost half the money we need to provide adequate law enforcement. This is without even looking at the nearly million dollars we spend each year on Halloween. Obviously this is not rational budgeting.
The long and short of it is that the city needed the revenue for law enforcement and it wanted to increase the use of our new parking structure.
We could have saved the $100,000 plus we probably paid to the consultant who drafted the meter rationalization if the city council would have just been honest about our budgetary needs. Alternatively the council could have looked at alternatives to raising the meters during the budget process. Of course that might have meant making hard choices.
If the city really wants to keep Boy’s Town vibrant and relevant as a regional center of gay culture, it really needs to stop harassing businesses with various bans and limitations on parking and start treating our gay businesses as partners rather than adversaries. Parking will continue to be a source of conflict as long as the city does not do everything it can to maximize parking opportunities.