Privatization Blues

I would like to expand on the article “Parking Lots Still in Peril” by Nick Welsh. California’s Department of Finance has hired a reported extra 100 auditors to go after what funds they think might be due them through the dissolution of the some 420 RDA agencies throughout the State. So what would this $22 million dollar new team of Men in Black potentially mean to our city?

Nick correctly reports that the 75-minute “free” period would evaporate, along with the very favorable hourly and maximum daily rates. In addition, as stated, it would likely be the demise of the Saturday Farmer’s Market in the Cota lot and the New Beginnings Program’s use of city lots. It would also likely mean that all “free” on-street parking would disappear, as the lots and the streets have always matched one another for the non-paid period, along with more than $400,000 of annual funds provided by the parking system to support MTD routes, the shuttle and the bike station. On top of that, more that $300,000 is currently moved from parking operations to help clean the sidewalks on State Street. Operations are subsidized not, as stated, by “government,” but by the merchants who pay quarterly fees to help the system run in the manner it does with reasonable fees and a human presence at the kiosks to provide better customer service. That would certainly disappear if the lots were to be privatized. The downtown parking system is a quasi enterprise fund, which must sustain itself on its generated revenues. The downtown corridor is the only customer paid-parking shopping district on the South Coast. The effect on the vitality of that area is predictable.

There are indeed more “wonky” details in this little drama, but we also stand to lose the train station and the space currently slated to house a children’s museum. All of this is for one-time money that is tantamount to “pocket change” in the scope of the state budget. The real losers will be all of us in Santa Barbara as our retail district, and thus our civic economic engine, becomes compromised perhaps beyond sustainability.

Yes, Virginia, the State of California is in deep yogurt financially, with most of the active dialogue reduced to finger pointing and harrumphing. The wanton taking of assets and infrastructure developed to revitalize zones of economic activity and thereby putting municipalities at further risk of demise is short-sighted at best and malfeasance on the part of Sacramento at worst, particularly for an agency such as ours which has leveraged those funds to the highest civic priorities. We must stand our ground on this one.

Randy Rowse is a member of the Santa Barbara City Council.

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