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Point of View

Not Enough Parking, and Pricey Citations

John Van Horn

Palo Alto, CA, has a problem. The downtown area doesn’t have enough parking, and the employees of downtown businesses are parking in nearby neighborhoods, which upsets the homeowners. The local parking folks are recommending a residential permit program, which, of course, ticks off the merchants.

I have two potential solutions.

First, why not charge for the parking permits on the street in the residential areas. Give each homeowner one free one and charge for the second and so forth. (That will motivate them to clean out their garages, which seems to be a problem.) Then sell permits to the employees in the local areas, but only for certain hours, say 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or whatever. Use the money to clean up the neighborhoods (new curbs, lighting, cops, etc.). What’s not to like?

Second, you know that big vacant lot on the edge of town? Have the merchants chip in and pave it for their employees, and have a shuttle run back and forth to take employees where they need to go. If you don’t fill it, sell parking to others, etc.

Of course, the residents don’t want anyone parking in their neighborhood, but if they finally got those new street lights, or the graffiti removed, or whatever, maybe having someone parking in front during the day wouldn’t be so bad.

The merchants are looking to the city to solve their parking problem – why not solve

it themselves?  If everyone kicked in a few

bucks, who knows, maybe they would have

a going concern.

Of course, everyone would have to kick in and who wants that?

Parking, it isn’t free; it’s a cost of doing business. And, residents, there was a reason the city required that you have a garage next to your house, and it wasn’t for storage.

There seems to be a lot of conversation out there about the reasons that cities set parking fines the way they do. In some cases, the fines are very low; other times, over the top.

As parking rates have increased, sometimes as much as $5 or $10 an hour on the street, and parking fines have remained low, there is a tendency on the part of the parker to roll the dice and hope they will not be cited. If the parking fee is $20 and the citation is $30, the difference may not be great enough to get a parker’s attention. Raising the fee in this case is certainly appropriate.

However, when the parking citation rate is already $75 or $100, and the city dads and moms have a shortfall in their budget, is raising the citation cost to fill that shortfall the thing to do?

I understand that cities are looking everywhere for revenue, but is this the place to look? I say no. They are turning a tool used in parking enforcement (the parking ticket and its related fine) into a tax to pay for government goods and services. This is a slippery slope. Where will it end?

It seems to me that if the citizens of a community are unwilling to pay for the services that the city wants to provide through normal taxation (property, sales, use, etc.), those services should be curtailed. Hammering a person who overstayed their parking meter by 10 minutes to pay for a new program instituted by the city council just isn’t the way to go about it.

Eventually, we have to learn to live within our means. Governments have to learn that the money they spend belongs to taxpayers, and is not unlimited. If the populace votes to raise taxes to pay for a project or program, so be it. But raising fines that exist to protect an asset as valuable as parking so the money can be used for other programs goes beyond the reach we provide our government.

If Detroit teaches us anything, it should teach us that we cannot, we must not, spend more than is reasonable. And “reasonable” is a number that must be set by responsible people who understand the business of government, not by those who see an unlimited source of money and feel an unlimited need to spend it.

There is another way to look at this. We pass a law, like the one that says you don’t park in a driveway or in front of a fire hydrant, or in a permit-controlled residential area. There is a reason for the law. It might be public safety, or to preserve parking for a certain group, or whatever. The purpose of the fine is to help enforce the law.  In a perfect world, no one would break the rule, no one would pay the fine, and there would be no pool of money constantly being generated.

It’s almost as if the government suddenly has moved from passing rules and regulations for the good of the community to passing them to generate revenue. Just as we are seeing in many communities today, the law of unintended consequences teams with Nemesis, and streets aren’t repaired, trash isn’t collected, police take an hour to respond, street lights don’t work, and governments go bankrupt.

Just as in business, well-run governments can’t keep going back to the well for more and more funding, particularly funding that results from people breaking rules.

Article Abstract from September, 2013




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