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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: No parking

California is currently facing many challenges such as a stagnating economy, high unemployment, and massive state deficits. These are general and widespread issues that require the bulk of our government’s attention. So what great dilemma does our state legislature try to tackle? You can thank your elected officials for making the gallant effort to eliminate the scourge of California citizens: free parking.

If Senate Bill 518 becomes law then you will no longer have to worry about pulling up to a parking spot, eagerly jumping out of your car with a fistful of quarters in hand, only to have your hopes dashed by the tragic absence of a parking meter.

The state government will enforce the new law by forcing local governments to comply with a points system that could be used in a future program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Local governments with more points would have an advantage in competing for future grants from the state. Cities and counties would receive points by attaching fees or adopting policies that reduce the total amount of parking available.

There is more to this law than simply giving us more bothersome and expensive inconveniences. The bill’s author, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), gave a few notable reasons for proposing it. First, he claims that by eliminating free parking we will reveal the “actual cost” of parking. So it is basically designed to transfer costs from one group of taxpayers to another.

This might seem fair, after all somebody must pay for our services. However, the cost gets placed heavily on the consumer of the parking space. There is no comparable tax reduction in other sectors that coincide with this bill, so it’s a roundabout way of increasing revenue.

Roads and parking spaces are constructed with the purpose to make travel easier, and thereby allowing people to travel to places and businesses that would otherwise be difficult to reach.

The main reason for implementing SB 518 is to reduce the number of cars on the road and thereby also reduce carbon emissions. Section 1(f) of the bill states that employer-provided free parking increases the rate of employees driving to work by 22 percent. It also states that taking 10 percent of the vehicles off a congested street can result in free-flowing traffic. The bill then goes on to claim that parking is under-priced and over-consumed.

The hope is that people will be forced to walk, ride bikes, or take public transportation when traveling. This is misguided because it applies to such a large and diverse state of California.

Perhaps in a highly urban area with tightly packed stores and ample public transportation, limiting vehicle travel is effective. Keep in mind, however, that California has large areas with sparse populations and undeveloped public transportation. Forcing them to adapt policies that are already used in many urban areas could damage many communities. In some areas vehicle transportation is necessary for the convenience of the citizens and vital to the businesses that they patronize.

Of all the people who will be affected by the elimination of free parking, it is likely that the policy will hurt people who have great economic difficulties the most.

Many of the people who already have to live with a strict limitation to their spending would no longer be able to afford parking either at the stores they shop or the establishments where they work. The economic opportunities that are produced by expanding employment locations to places outside of their immediate community will be lost.

The greatest problem with eliminating free parking is not simply that there will be more parking meters. Many cities and communities already have large numbers of parking meters that they use to increase revenue. They have made the decision based on what they believe is right for their community.

By passing laws that make travel, shopping, and daily activities more frustrating and inconvenient, California will lose the good will of the people. As frustrations mount the people’s willingness to accept the laws and actions of the state will erode. Instead of changing their behavior as the government intends to do with SB 518, people will just leave the state entirely.

JARRETT STEPMAN likes to walk but appreciates the freedom of movement that a car provides. You can reach him at jstepman@ucdavis.edu.


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