Oakland City Council to Consider Scaling Back Parking Meter Hours Tonight

3736646388_c6f95c5892.jpgThe Grand Lake Theater. Flickr photo: Fragmentary Evidence
Facing mounting pressure from merchants and residents, the Oakland City Council will vote tonight (agenda PDF) on whether to partially roll back parking changes that have spurred an effort to recall the entire council.

In late June, the council voted to raise the parking meter rates by 50 cents to two dollars an hour, extend weekday meter enforcement to 8 p.m., and authorize more aggressive enforcement. The council will vote tonight on whether to reduce enforcement hours, either to 7 p.m. or all the way back to 6 p.m. They'd also need to identify up to $1.3 million in new revenue or cuts to make up for the loss of additional parking revenue.

The chief voice calling for a policy reversal has been Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater, who has organized protest meetings at his theater to rally opposition from other businesses and residents. Michaan insists that the new parking rules are deeply harming business in Oakland and causing customers to flee to surrounding East Bay communities that have free parking. He's cited a drop in revenue of 25 to 30 percent at his theater as evidence that the new parking rules are killing business.

In spite of Oakland's dire budget shortfall, Michaan has insisted the city find another way to cover its budget gap. At a protest at his theater in late July, Michaan said he'd be willing to make cuts to the police budget instead, which is likely to be a non-starter in a city where crime is among citizens' biggest concerns.

Cuts are more likely to come in areas considered non-essential, like libraries, parks, or staff cuts in other departments.

Paula Ramsey, executive director of Friends of Oakland Parks & Recreation, said she's not worried that the council would make further cuts to parks, if only because they've already been so severely slashed. "They've already had such deep cuts," said Ramsey.

Then again, she added, "you never know."

Given the political steam that Michaan has built up, including a petition with more than 5,000 signatures in support of recalling the entire council, many elected officials have been hesitant to publicly support the parking changes.

Robert Raburn, who is the director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and has been involved with the Mayor's Parking Task Force in Oakland, said parking fees are a sound source of revenue, but the city did a poor job of communicating changes. "Either you're going to close some libraries, cut back on other services, or raise funds," said Raburn. "I think this is a very reasonable approach to take to gather revenue from a source that you've not been very innovative at gathering in the past."

Raburn wondered if any of the council members would take a leadership role on parking and defend the changes in the face of public opposition.

There was no sign that would happen as of Monday evening. Several observers from the City Council offices and advocate community noted privately that the political furor over parking had made a rationale debate about the changes' merits nearly impossible, for now.

That uproar may have resulted from the incautious way the changes were rolled out, with inadequate public outreach and notice. Prior to the vote in June, some restaurants were actually in favor of similar parking changes, but the botched implementation seems to have undermined that support.

The EBBC's Raburn sees irony in Michaan's role as the backlash movement's leader, since his theater has ample four-hour free parking in a city-owned lot across the street. Still, irony aside, the City Council will need to decide tonight whether to stand up for a policy that was rolled out clumsily, or retreat in the face of a popular uprising.

Oakland City Council vote on parking changes: 6 p.m., Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland. Parking vote is item 15 on the meeting agenda.