Magazine

Point of View

Phones, A Line in a Movie, and SF – Again

By John Van Horn

You call a company, and you get a computer telling you to listen to a menu. You can select a department by pressing “1” for sales, “2” for accounting, etc. So far, so good.
What happens if you want an individual? You are told to press a number for the staff directory. There you are told to enter the first few letters of the person’s first or last name. You do so, and immediately you go back to the original message telling you to listen to the menu. You try again and again; you get the same message.
Then you look at your phone. You are calling on a BlackBerry, an iPhone or a Droid. When you enter the person’s name, you are entering it on a standard keyboard, not a telephone key pad. If you try to remember which keys have which letters (6 for M, 4 for I, 5 for K) you are sure to fail – except they told you to press 7 for Q and 9 for Z.
So you are lost. You will never complete your call. But wait – there is one thing you can do: Press 0. You will get a person, and they will help you. Unless you are calling at noon, when you will most likely get the receptionist’s voice mail asking you to leave a message.
***
If you built it … dammit, they will come. The merchants in Westwood, a shopping area in LA, are having a meltdown over parking. The city built a garage on Broxton Avenue in the neighborhood. It’s hidden on a one-way street, and most visitors can’t find it. Two hours free, and a $3 flat rate after 5 p.m.
The first thing I would do if I were concerned about parking in Westwood is that I would put up some signage that directed people to inexpensive parking on Broxton. The second thing I would do would be to form a parking district and subsidize parking in other private structures in the area. Each merchant puts some money in a pot and pays for parking for visitors to the area.
A number of parking garages sit empty a block or so off Westwood Boulevard. These are businesspeople who have to charge for parking to pay their bills. After all, we all know that there is no such thing as “free” parking. Somebody has to pay for it.
The Westwood merchants are complaining that “free” parking in nearby shopping centers (five to seven miles) attract folks who would otherwise come to Westwood to shop. Let’s review the bidding:
• Beverly Center – $1 per hour to park.
• The Grove – one hour free, then $3 flat for the next three hours.
• Century City Shopping Center – three hours free, then a flat $7 for three hours and one minute up.
• Santa Monica – two hours free until 6 p.m. then a flat $5.
At The Grove and Century City, theaters and some stores validate. It would not be possible to do dinner and a movie in three hours. But the fact is that there is a charge for parking. In Santa Monica, the structures are basically empty during the week, before 6 p.m., and jammed after 6.
Makes sense. So people actually pay $5 to park in Santa Monica. At Century City, they have a validation program. People actually pay to park at Beverly Center and most do at The Grove.
Yet all these places are booming destination locations. Westwood, on the other hand, is not. Merchants blame parking. I really wonder if it’s lack of free parking, or simply lack of convenient parking? Or is it that no one really wants to go to Westwood? I mean, why would you go there?
Where are the great sidewalk restaurants (Subway, McDonalds, and the like are certainly available)? Where are the trendy shops, the “people watching,” the up-market 15-screen cinemas? Oh sure, there are movie theaters – the old style where you sit behind Mazie with the big hat – and one is “down there,” or three blocks away, or whatever.
Where are the promenades for strolling and window shopping, with benches and street vendors? All the centers I mentioned above have all that, and more. These places have built it and, frankly, people do come.
Century City, The Grove, Beverly Center and Santa Monica have all been completely renovated within the past few years, most within the past year. They take advantage of new technology and ideas to make their centers attractive and destination locations.
Santa Monica invested in its infrastructure, and its downtown is absolutely booming. People drive from all over Southern California to visit the four-block promenade now, with its shiny new shopping center at one end. No one talks about parking. The Grove is a great spot, with high-end Nordstrom’s and Apple stores, great restaurants, and a 15-screen movie theater with stadium seating. Likewise for Century City. Why the hell would I want to go to Westwood?
The area needs to clean up its act. Period. If you build it, they will come, parking be damned. As usual, parking is a scapegoat for lack of vision and investment.
Sorry, merchants, it’s much more than just a line in “Field of Dreams.”
***
San Francisco warns that it is going to balance the budget by writing more parking tickets. Yep, “Baghdad by the Bay” is down a few million and has said it’s going to make up the difference by getting tough on those overstaying their parking and writing more tickets.
The city – actually, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency – had budgeted an income of $99 million from parking tickets, and it seems the budget is about $21 million short, so what to do what to do? Simple – don’t find a way to lower expenses $21 million; simply increase revenue by writing more parking tickets.
What they are admitting is that literally tens of thousands of people in San Francisco are parking illegally, and the enforcement folks simply hadn’t gotten around to finding them. However, because they now need more money, they are going to clamp down on these horrible scofflaws and clean up the parking problem in the city.
What would happen if they were successful? What if, for instance, that by increasing enforcement, they lower the rate of violations? It seems to work with other crimes. If the cops concentrate their efforts on, say, drug sales in a particular area, the incidence of that activity decreases.
What is the city going to do if the good people of San Francisco decide to start obeying the law and park legally? Where are they going to get their money then?
They are installing parking meters that take credit cards. It’s a known fact that when you do so, the number of people who receive citations for expired meters goes down. Why? Well, when a person had to put quarters in the meter and didn’t have enough, often they simply took a risk that they wouldn’t be caught.
However, credit cards are different. People pay the full rate to ensure they won’t be ticketed. (See a related article on Page 16.)
You might say, super. Instead of parking tickets, revenue will be increased by people paying more to park. It doesn’t work that way. Adding a couple of bucks for parking doesn’t replace a $50 citation. A number of cities have found that they have to rethink their business model when credit cards are involved in the process.
San Francisco needs to rethink completely their parking policy. They have a great idea with their SFpark concept (see www.sfpark.org). Their marketing is super. But what are they going to do if the new program works as advertised and the people of San Francisco actually embrace it?
So SF has two conflicting issues – They need more money and are planning to write more tickets to get it. At the same time, they are installing equipment that will reduce the incidence of folks overstaying the money they put in the meters.
By increasing enforcement, they may be able to hold their own, but a 20% increase, I don’t think so.

Article Abstract from February, 2011




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