Editorial: City should protect community parking district autonomy
By Hutton Marshall
Earlier this year, City Auditor Eduardo Luna, an independent analyst with the city of San Diego, audited the city’s Community Parking District (CPD) program, a little known but very impactful part of San Diego’s denser urban communities.
Parking districts, in a general sense, are parking-impacted areas identified by the city. The CPD program, initiated by the city in 1997, allows communities to form small nonprofit boards to spend a portion of meter revenue on projects to improve parking locally.
The audit detailed three main findings. While focusing on separate aspects of the program, each finding recommended increased accountability, transparency and reporting by the CPDs and the city staff administering the program. While government transparency and accountability are near-universal positives, new city legislation could stymie the innovative efforts of progressive parking districts like ours in Uptown.Before explain why, I want to briefly cover the basic structure of the programs.
Technically, there are six different parking districts, but there are really only three in play (the ones with parking meters): Uptown, Downtown and Mid-City. The latter is split between two managing organizations, the University Heights Community Development Corporation and the El Cajon Business Improvement Association.
Downtown’s parking district is overseen by Civic SD, a nonprofit working on myriad civic development projects in Downtown, City Heights and Encanto.
The Uptown Community Parking District (UCPD) is unique in that it operates solely to manage parking in its communities, which include Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Mission Hills, and International Restaurant Row/Five Points.
The UCPD’s board is made up of seats designated to each of the four communities it covers, with the number of seats per community proportional to the amount of meter revenue its corresponding area brings in. Because of this, Hillcrest gets seven of the board’s 14 seats. The organization is led by Elizabeth Hannon, a former San Diego LGBT Pride executive, who became UCPD’s chief executive officer in late 2013.
I spoke at length with Hannon about the audit, and while there were a few areas of concern and ambiguity she wants to inquire into, she’s optimistic overall about the changes that might come from it, including several areas of improvement cited that encompass goals UCPD already had on their radar.
Like I said, it’s hard to backbite an audit recommending accountability, transparency and basic financial reporting, but if extended too far, these controls could siphon the vibrancy from these programs.
Hannon said the possibility of too much bureaucratic oversight is “definitely an area of concern” for UCPD after reading the audit.
It’s also worth mentioning the U-T San Diego report that publicized the $178 million in parking revenue held by the community parking districts. While Civic SD staff told the U-T that much of their reserves were conserved resources to be used for a third parking garage Downtown, Hannon stated that much of the UCPD’s bulky savings account is already allocated to projects that are waiting for approval by city staff. If Uptown’s parking district is already struggling to allocate the millions on hand to find badly needed parking solutions in Hillcrest, adding more hoops to jump through certainly won’t help.
A few of the more unique projects in 2014 — ones that might have been more difficult to bring to fruition with more stringent oversight — have been the Park Hillcrest App (which will become a lot more useful once it’s synced with the incoming smart meters), various transit and bike infrastructure projects, and partnering with the California DMV to secure 178 additional spots on nights and weekends.
I’m not saying none of this would have happened had a more drawn-out approval process been in place, but I suspect several projects — like those not previously tested on San Diego streets — would have taken considerably longer to approve. That, in turn, would have disincentivised parking districts from going out on a limb with more ambitious parking strategies.
The audit also revealed some meter revenue accounting previously unknown to the parking districts.
In each district, meter revenue is split between the city and the parking districts 55/45, respectively. But before dividing this sum, the city takes out the costs of administering the district and monitoring the parking meters.
The audit revealed that the city drew in $33 million over the last four years. Of that, $11 million went to administrative costs. Prior to this audit, Hannon couldn’t speculate what this administrative sum might be. The fact that the CPD responsible for managing a large sum of meter revenue wasn’t privy to how one-third of the city’s meter revenue was spent goes to show the need for increased transparency.
While what Hillcrest really needs is a large parking garage — maybe one that can cover its own operating expenses like North Park’s — and a greater commitment to active transportation, the many projects and studies implemented by the UCPD since its reforming have proven worthy and wise.
Minor modifications like fixing curb cuts and other safe, minor measures won’t solve the problem. Parking in Hillcrest needs an overhaul, and the city shouldn’t inhibit the UCPD’s ability to do so.
So when would these proposed changes happen? The audit report went before the City Council Audit Committee, which forwarded it along to the Smart Growth & Land Use Committee. It’s expected to go before Smart Growth in early February. Updates to come then. You can find the full auditor’s report at sandiego.gov/auditor.
—Contact Hutton Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you Uptown News and Joshua Bonnici for publishing the important information about leash laws etc. [See “To Leash or not to leash” in Vol. 6 Issue 26]. I am so tired of seeing people walking their dogs unleashed, and in dangerous situations like busy traffic etc. I have an old, diabetic, arthritic dog who is very mellow and loves people. She does not however, like other dogs, and will bark fiercely at them when she is on the leash being walked. Off leash she is fine. I cross the street or walk around parked cars if there is another dog coming. It is more of a worry when there are unleashed dogs around. One time, a small, unleashed dog ran out into the road after us at night when we were crossing over. It could have been run over. I’ve talked to some of these dog owners here and there and they just don’t seem to care. Hopefully, Mr. Bonnici’s answer to the question from John the dog walker will educate more people to be more mindful.
—Melanie Ross, via email