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State lawmaker looks to end free parking spots

January 30, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A state senator says traffic congestion and pollution are two major factors in his decision to encourage limits on free parking, but he's already facing stiff opposition. Many people are saying that this is very creative legislation. The essential part of the bill is that it goes to the heart of having a car. You need a place to park it. The theory is that if there were fewer parking spaces, you might think longer about taking the bus.

If you are a driver, the search for a parking spot that is convenient and cheap is a familiar drill.

"I just feel that sometimes, it's outrageous. You know, too much is too much," said one commuter.

"So it's sort of tempers where you going to go," said another commuter.

Parking space is the life blood of business. Jon Morris, owner of a Long Beach restaurant, agrees.

"I would say that 85 percent of our clients drive," said Morris.

"We know people like to have free parking," said Sen. Allen Lowenthal.

Yet Lowenthal said there must be a way to curb car use and reduce pollution by limiting parking. Senate bill 518 proposes a parking policy reform. It begins with some calculations. What does a space really cost? You may be surprised to know, for instance, that the parking structure for the Long Beach Aquarium was heavily subsidized.

"That parking structure was built for example with federal funds and state funds. So the public never pays the true cost of it, because we provided that land for that and all we're saying is lets figure out what that really cost," said Sen. Alan Lowenthal.

Cities require developers to provide parking spaces for condos and businesses. Senate bill 518 is a call to unbundle the cost of the parking spaces from the cost of the building space. Sticker shock might encourage businesses to scale back their parking lots.

"Could we provide bus passes or transient passes instead of that? Are there alternatives if we know what the true cost of that parking is?" Lowenthal asked,

The bill offers a carrot but no stick.

"If they will reduce it, that their subsidy to that, we will provide them with incentives to meet their greenhouse gas goals. It's just an incentive and it's one for cities to look at in a menu of all the ways they could their carbon footprints," said Lowenthal.

The measure is opposed by associations that represent both cities and counties. In fact, the senator says that if the measure is passed, he doubts that the governor will ever sign it. The senator's aim, he says, is just to get the dialogue going.