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A “revelation” about downtown Los Altos parking policy

August 12, 2009

I’m quite glad I didn’t think too hard about the local news this summer while I was studying for the bar exam.  Something like this might have made my head explode.

Free parking: At what cost?: Rethinking use of downtown could reverse economic fortunes

I know what you’re thinking: “Finally.”

The article buries the lead, waiting until the eleventh paragraph to mention the supposed “revelation” that “free parking is a problem that thwarts economic growth.”  I’m not sure how revelatory it is when Donald Shoup has been saying this for decades (and I’ve been echoing him for years).  What is revelatory, however, is that such a rational idea might get any traction at all in Los Altos.  Kudos to the Sorensen brothers and Bruce Barton for raising the issue.

Shoup (pronounced like the common and wrong pronunciation of the park) argues that cities that require business to provide free parking force those businesses to make up the price by raising the prices of their goods and services.  This means that customers, including those of us who walk, bike, or take transit, subsidize solo drivers.  These requirements generate more and more parking spaces, making driving convenient and walking and biking unpleasant and less safe.

Shoup describes the requirements as “a fertility drug for cars.”  He advocates investing the revenue from the parking into beautification of the surrounding area.  Neighborhoods such as Old Pasadena have tried this and met with great success.  Redwood City has been experimenting with it, but too tentatively to draw any conclusions one way or another.  San Francisco is about to embrace it.  In contrast, Mountain View is still doing stuff like this.

Opponents, unsurprisingly including Council member Ron Packard, respond that … well, it’s not really clear that it’s actually a response, but he doesn’t like it.

“I think it’s a very bad idea,” said Los Altos City Councilman Ron Packard, a member of the downtown development committee. “Our two major competitors are Stanford Shopping Center and Santana Row, and they have free parking. (Meters) would draw people away from Los Altos.”

Los Altos and Mountain View both levy taxes on businesses according to the parking “formulas” (junk science originally propagated by the American Planning Association completely oblivious to what the demand curve for a free good typically looks like).  Those taxes cause the price of goods to increase and makes the atmosphere less enjoyable because of all the cars.  If Packard or anyone else can explain why that makes us more competitive with Stanford and Santana Row, I’m all ears.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 13, 2009 3:14 pm

    Making too much economic sense NOE. Hope the studying is going well. Have tried to offer market based alternatives for parking but no luck. At least we lease (but not enough) the spots downtown to castro street owners to sell food.

    On residential units we require way too much free parking and allow people to use their garages as storage units and park outside in a milder climate.

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