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OpEd: Steve Stajich Weighs in On Metro:

In his brilliant routine on “Stuff,” comedian George Carlin illuminated the contradictions of having possessions and then needing to figure out what to do with them. “Your home is just a place for your stuff, with a roof over it” Carlin points out and then discusses how complicated it can be to go on vacation and enter a vortex of frustration over what to do with all the stuff you brought with you in order to relax on vacation.

Carlin might have added that a car is part of your ‘stuff’ and that you not only need to find a place to park near your home, you always need to find a place to put your car when you drive someplace. Another George, cartoon character from the future George Jetson, had a neat solution: Upon arriving at his place of work, his flying saucer car would neatly fold up into a briefcase that he then carried in to his office.

Alas, citizens and visitors to our city can’t fold up their cars into a briefcase. They need to find a parking place. But the Santa Monica City Council appears to believe that those briefcase cars are closer to reality than any of us might imagine and has, in our congested reality of now, decided to jack up the cost of parking.

Seemingly looking to discourage the new downtown Metro Line from becoming a “park and ride” facility, the Council quietly raised the parking rates at a range of parking facilities across the City, and all-day parking rates at the Civic Center lot will more than double. The City has said in a statement that the “measures” (raising parking rates) will “address current conditions and forestall park and ride activity.”

I am a little perplexed at exactly what the Council believed would happen in regard to parking when the Metro Line was finally running. Did they honestly believe that most rail line users would either walk or ride their bikes to the facility? Mirror readers correctly responded to the parking rate hikes with comments regarding older citizens’ ability to walk or bike to the train. One online comment read, “I guess the Metro is for bike riders and tourists. Thanks for ruining our plans for our senior years.”

There’s no denying that efforts throughout L.A. to encourage bus and train transportation as an alternative to driving are always operating behind the eight ball. Many argue that the die was cast as far back as the late 1940’s when oil and tire companies colluded to encourage the use of personal transportation (cars) and actively discourage any more infrastructures for public transportation. Now we all have our personal transportation and, as Carlin might have put it, we need someplace to keep our stuff.

Driving and parking in Los Angeles could easily have been a verse in musician Frank Zappa’s song “The Torture Never Stops.” Now, almost overnight, our own city of Santa Monica has added to that suffering by jacking up downtown Santa Monica parking.

It too often seems that modern living is a process in which one keeps paying more just to hang on to what we already have. Ask anyone who has watched their cable TV charges go up and up, just so they can keep enjoying what they are already receiving in their homes. But that’s entertainment. Transportation in the metropolis of Southern California that we call home isn’t on the same level with getting your “shows” in your home. Citizens must be able to get to work, get out of their homes, attend school and community functions and with every effort figure out how to navigate traffic and then park their cars.

One might gasp upon reading about the privatization of water in third world countries, and then properly reason that the jacking-up of parking rates in a beautiful ocean-side city is something of a first-world inconvenience. But the two events are similar in that a thing that is known to be a necessity is exploited with little recourse on the part of those in need.

And thus I find the parking rate increases not only off-putting but frankly distasteful. The City argues that the LUCE measure gives them policy guidance to use parking pricing as a tool to manage congestion. But the need for parking for the new downtown Metro Line wasn’t some invisible unforeseen consequence. That need was right out in the open and should have been properly anticipated. Jacking-up parking rates after the train line has been fully installed as Santa Monica infrastructure has the queasy taint of telling us later about something that was known to be coming.

 

In viewing “The Jetsons” future world of flying cars one might dwell on what their unforeseen complications might be, such as avoiding mid-air collisions or even running out of fuel while waiting in line for a cheeseburger at a levitating Wendy’s fly-through window. But everybody on the Santa Monica City Council knew that users of the new Metro Line would have every expectation of parking their car and thus finding a place for their “stuff.” Raising parking rates now, in real or feigned hindsight, is definitely not a funny ‘routine.’

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