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Is It Possible to Have a Rational Conversation about Parking, Muni's Budget, and Transit Policy in SF? Signs Point to "NO" (Part 1)

Is it possible to have a rational discussion on parking, Muni's budget, and public safety in the City That Knows How?

Judging by the latest demagoguery via the politicians, their allies in the press, etc. I'm thinking "no." Instead, people use bits and pieces of fact and fiction to fan the flames of rage and prejudice to accomplish their own narrow goals. Meanwhile, getting something of substance of done, such as a rational policy that works for the City, is lost by the wayside.

Let's take on the hot topic this week: The Parking Tickets Are Too Damn High. In a PR blunder worthy of Enron, the MTA basically stated that to make more "money" for the agency, they would need to get more revenue from parking tickets. WTF?

Now, that's not quite what the agency said (although it was close) , but that didn't stop certain well-paid columnists from fanning the flames of screaming Gate commenters and screaming ex-politicians to revive the "Muni sucks and drivers are being picked on" meme. And today we have a mayoral candidate fanning the flames some more with a bullshit "petition" with more misinformation, all to get votes and look popular with the voters. Meanwhile this choose-up-sider rhetoric creates a false "us vs. them" conflict that ensures rational discussions cannot be had.

So, let's inject a dose of rational, calm, reality about all this. I'm sure the politicians and their PR people won't go for this, and dead-tree media allies won't listen, but at least it will be out there on The Google in case anyone's reading.

First off, as I have said over and over and over and over, and over again, relying on parking ticket fines for a primary income source is wrong, morally and fiscally. They are to be used to punish bad behavior (or worse dangerous behavior) and regulate the use of public space for the common good and move traffic along. THAT IS ALL.

Trying to make up the enormous hole in Muni's revenue caused by years of looting by Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Democratic legislature, as well as Ex Mayor Newsom's looting via phony "work orders" will not be made up with parking tickets. That's like fishing for change in the couch cushions to make up for the fact 30% of your income was stolen from you by a thief.

It is simply not a stable source of "revenue" that can be relied on, year to year. Just this last year we've seen a drop in citations, in part because parking control officers had to be redirected to other duties for things like Giants games (and celebrations! yay!), and we had to stop hiring so many people because of budget woes.

More to the point, as you raise tickets to punishing levels, people will get the message, and behave properly, thus not getting a ticket. Thus, the original intent of said tickets, correcting bad behavior, has won out. That should be considered a victory by everyone since it means people are obeying the law. This is especially important if illegal parking is blocking cars and Muni, making sidewalks impassable for seniors and the disabled, blocking fire hydrants, and so on.

Let's not forget that the MTA has been working on some ways to improve parking meters, making it easier for people to pay upfront, and manage parking based on actual demand (which in many ways might end up with people paying less during certain times). Again, this is common sense. Better to simply collect what's owed, and allow people to obey the law and pay their fare share. Right?

Otherwise, you end up with a bizarre system where the MTA has an incentive to punish people vs. persuing common sense, and doing so through the criminal justice system. By the logic of "parking as revenue," I suppose we should simply red-stripe the entire city, and have people play a game of cat and mouse with the DPT, artfully dodging tickets or getting nailed with a $500 ticket for a meter that's expired for five minutes.

However, the people you need to blame for this state of affairs isn't at the MTA - it's the last 15 years worth of politicians who have encouraged this type of policy behind closed doors because they don't want to pay for Muni via taxes.

This way, they can play Santa Claus and make it seem like there aren't as many taxes in San Francisco as there are - they just call 'em fines and fees. It's dishonest - but it also makes voters feel good too.

Meanwhile, finding a stable, honest funding mechanism that makes us less dependent on Sacramento's BS is out the window, and the politicians can run away when they get elected to higher office. I've no sympathy for scofflaws who flout the parking rules, and they do need to be punished.

Relying on a decreasing number of scofflaws, however leads to this kind of destructive cycle that serves no one well. We need a fully funded MTA and Muni that is running efficiently and sans foolish spending, but we also need to ensure it has the money to do the job in the first place.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow

Comments

I live in an area (not in the Bay Area) where parking isn't a problem. Here we have "red light cameras" at busy intersections, with a fine of around $400 if your image is captured. It's supposed to prevent collisions, but I wonder how many "rear enders" are caused by somebody coming to a screeching halt just as the light changes. In one city, the cameras were found to be erring on the side of more money for the city (and the camera service). Depending on fine revenue (and for that matter, taxes on tobacco and booze), to finance our public services is not the sign of honesty and intelligence. Unfortunately, logic and common sense seem to be in short supply these days.

Taxes need a 2/3 majority vote to pass. Fines do not. Prop 13 strikes again.

It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to raise taxes in San Francisco.

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