Why the Beverly Hills Parking Propositions Miss the Real Issue
For the past few weeks my mailbox has been packed with slickly-produced campaign flyers, nearly all of them about the issue of free parking in garages owned by the City of Beverly Hills. There are actually two proposals on the ballot. The first, Measure 2P, was put on there by a group of local landlords, and would require the city to provide two hours free to everyone in all city garages. The second, Measure 3P, was put on the ballot by the city council itself in response to “2P,” and would give three free hours to city residents only.
The details of these proposals aren’t that interesting, and I’ll be voting against both of them anyway. I rarely use city parking anymore, which makes my decision easier, but it also makes sense from other perspectives:
■ Donald Shoup would point out the “High Cost of Free Parking,” and how it encourages unnecessary driving. He might then give some statistics on how much Beverly Hills spends per space (including the latest underground project on Crescent Boulevard), money that could otherwise be spent on projects with more impact.
■ The city council would rightly point out that 2P removes ability to use resources at its disposal to balance the budget, especially in a time when it is facing shortfalls, and sets an unfortunate precedent over who gets to make the rules in this city (3P wouldn’t even be on the ballot except as a “desperation move” in response to 2P).
■ I would point out that the proposals are a reminder of how inefficient California’s proposition politics has become; we’re very good at voting in benefits, and very bad at voting in ways to pay for them.
Business promotion is the main argument offered by 2P supporters, and comes up on all the flyers I’ve received. (I’ve yet to receive anything in the mail against the proposal, but there is some opposition.) Some of the flyers mention the increasing competition from areas surrounding Beverly Hills, like the three free parking hours that Westfield Century City offers, or the cheap parking at the Beverly Center and The Grove. While these comparisons may be accurate, I don’t think they’re justified, as most of the examples offered concern private garages in shopping malls, where mall businesses subsidize spots. Beverly Hills public parking is, instead, “socialized” by the taxpayer, and paid for by every resident who also pays property taxes. Parking is expensive. People should pay for what they use.
There is some question over the legality of Measure 2P, and that challenge is still in the courts. I believe the proposal will still hit the ballot, however, despite the outcome of that case, and my guess is that it will pass, and not 3P. Whatever. Allowing public policy to come to a vote is a recipe for bad results, and makes me wonder whether Hans Voerknecht (the Dutch “bicycle activist”) has a point: “Democracy is not about doing the will of the people; it’s about choosing the best men and women out of the people who make the wisest decisions.”
Whatever the outcome at the ballot box, I think Beverly Hills and its businesses are missing out on the bigger issue. If business is suffering here versus our neighbors, it’s not because of parking, free or not. Shoppers prefer Century City or The Grove because the shopping experience is better. These other places have restored the human dimension to space: they take cars off their ersatz “streets,” and give it back to pedestrians. (Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and Universal Studio’s City Walk do the same.) Shopping in Beverly Hills isn’t interesting or fun anymore. The model has become obsolete. The magic is gone.
A few years ago, Jimmy Delshad, who subsequently became mayor, proposed the idea of pedestrianizing Rodeo Drive. I don’t know exactly what came of the proposal, but Fred Hayman, the former owner of Giorgio’s and the “Pa Kettle of Rodeo Drive,” thought it wouldn’t work: “Exotic cars are part of the attraction of California.” I respect Mr. Hayman’s business acumen, but I can say with some confidence that no matter how much you may be enthralled by the odd Lamborghini that passes by, the noise and exhaust of cars eventually are going to wear you down. Who wants to dine outside with sports cars roaring by?
I’d really like the city of Beverly Hills to pick up this idea again, at least on an experimental basis. Close Rodeo Drive or Beverly Drive to vehicular traffic one day weekly. Maybe the city could move the Farmer’s Market from behind the courthouse to Beverly Drive on that day. Make the shopping experience unique, compelling, and fun again. Do this for a few months and see what happens. Otherwise, I am going to predict that Beverly Hills will continue losing shoppers, including me, to its neighbors.
Oh, and by the way, since this is nominally a bicycle blog, I should mention how bicycles fit in. Simply put, if we can pedestrianize the city center, the human-powered ways to get there have to be next. I don’t think there’s any great city that added bicycles to its transportation network without making pedestrians fit first.