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Oakland City Council

Oakland Council Rolls Back Parking Changes Amid Cries From Merchants

grand_lake_theater_parking.jpgGrand Lake Theater owner Alan Michaan exhorts the public to "Stop the Parking Madness!" Photo: DigiAnt

During another raucous staging of political parking theater at last night's Oakland City Council meeting, where more than 90 speakers often shouted their opinions on the city's parking policy, the council reversed its position from July, scaling back the 8 pm evening time limit until 6 pm and assenting to a dynamic, citywide parking study. To
make up the approximately $1 million in lost parking revenue, the council will look to new
advertising deals, including nearly $500,000 in billboard revenue from Clear Channel. Only Councilmember Nancy Nadel of Downtown and West Oakland voted against the roll-back.

Oakland City Administrator Dan Lindheim, despite his own admission it would contradict an existing city ordinance, instructed staff to make the changes immediately after the vote, while the council meeting was still in progress, prompting a hearty applause from an audience overwhelmingly opposed to the extended meter hours and increased meter rates. 

Angry residents and business owners as well as several chambers of commerce and business associations lined up one after another to decry the initial changes, suggesting that the increased rate and hours were the death knell to commerce in Oakland.

"We have heard enough from our merchants about the impacts of this parking to their businesses," said Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce Board President Sugiarto Loni. "I'm here to urge all the citiy council members, please don't defer any more your motion to roll-back parking meters from 8 to 6.  It's going to help the small business a lot."

The champion of cheap parking was again Alan Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland's Grand Avenue district, who claimed that his business was down 50 percent because of the parking regulations. Michaan started his testimony with an apology to city council members for his previous outbursts and the anger he leveled at them, though he continued with arch rhetoric and veiled threats of a recall vote if they did not roll back meter rates and time.

"People aren't coming to my business and my business is just one of many businesses that are being so affected all over Oakland," said Michaan. "This is not about my business any more, about whether my business survives or not, it's about whether Oakland survives or not. You've basically shattered my business and thousands of others all over town."

The aggressive ticketing is so "out of propriety," he claimed, it's leaving the city open to a class-action lawsuit. He also called on the council to forgive all parking tickets issued since July 1st and claimed that his critics would be humbled by sales tax revenue numbers when they were released:

I know some of you don't believe in what I'm saying, how major this impact has been on the City of Oakland and on businesses.  You'll find out in three months when the 3rd quarter sales tax results are going to be released by Sacramento.  And you're going to be shocked, stunned, and dismayed. Our customers are abandoning our city; it's not worth getting a ticket.  It's not worth paying the over-the-top price for parking. We're not San Francisco, we're not Paris or New York, we're Oakland.  We're already struggling with an image problem already.  Let's make our city succeed rather than be a catalyst for its failure --that’s what this is, a catalyst for its failure.

Though Michaan received tremendous applause from the audience, not every member of the public supported him. Max Alstott accused Michaan of bluster and political naivete and offered his support to council members who instituted the parking changes.

"I do not believe that you guys scared everybody out of Oakland's parking spaces, I believe Alan Michaan did by getting on the 6 o'clock news and telling everyone to be terrified of parking in Oakland," he said. "One of you ought to scold him for the level of invective he brought out here. You guys were accused of extortion for raising the fee from $1.50 to $2, but you were accused of extortion by a man who charges $3 for a small coke."

Councilmember Jean Quan, who chairs the Finance and Management Committee, said she and her colleagues went into the budget process in good faith and tried to apply equally painful cuts and revenue increases across the board.  She said the public didn't pay attention to the budget until parking, but she felt increased parking hours and rates were preferable to shuttering libraries and firing police officers.  She also warned of further budget deficits by January and hinted that raising parking would still be on the table, pending the citywide study.

Councilmember Patricia Kernighan, who was credited by her colleagues as leading the compromise and reaching out to concerned business groups, said that despite their good faith efforts to create a balanced budget across city divisions, they had failed. She apologized for not conducting better outreach and said, "People don't want to feel like we're balancing the city budget on their backs or that we're punishing people."

To sum up the sentiment of the evening, Kernighan read from an August 2nd post from trade magazine Parking Today's blog, which featured a story on Oakland's parking drama.

"Parking is the most emotive subject known to man. Screw with a person's taxes and you have a heated discussion, screw with their parking, and you have a revolution."

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