Politics and governance are strange bedfellows. If you are in a civic policy making role, your job is governance — doing what is best for your city, county, state or country, even if your constituents don’t agree with you. Then every few years you have to shift from governance to politics, pandering to voters so that you can keep your seat.
So why are City Council members John D’Amico and Lauren Meister, who were elected to office in March, now surveying West Hollywood residents on their attitude about city parking regulations? D’Amico and Meister have almost four years to go before they’ll need to hit the streets to beg for money and votes. That means they have plenty of time to make fact-based decisions on what is best for West Hollywood rather than conduct opinion surveys whose conclusions are obvious.
Of course West Hollywood residents, this writer included, wish it were easier to find a parking space. Of course we wish we didn’t have to put money in a meter until midnight or 2 a.m. to keep our car parked. Of course we wish we could park wherever we want, not just in special residential zones that we have to buy a permit for. And it is painful to pay for those damned parking tickets.
But those of us who sat through Economics 101 in high school or college also understand the law of supply and demand, a principal as irrefutable as the fact that the Earth is round. If parking is free, or very cheap, the supply of available parking spaces declines because people have no incentive to move their cars. So someone looking to park for two hours on Santa Monica Boulevard to dine at Cafe d’Etoile may find himself blocked by someone who lives on a nearby residential street and doesn’t want to pay for a residential parking permit. That is the apparent rationale of those tour buses that park illegally overnight outside the House of Blues. After all, a $129 ticket for illegal parking is nothing compared to what you’d have to pay to book rooms for the six members of your Goth band at a nearby hotel.
But if parking is limited in time or expensive, that driver parked outside Cafe d’Etoile might weigh his financial options and decide that an annual residential parking pass (or a night in a motel for the Goth band members) is a bargain, freeing the space for someone who is just looking to dine out for the evening.
If D’Amico and Meister and the rest of the City Council want to do what’s right for the City of West Hollywood, they should give more weight to the law of supply and demand than to the opinions of people whose perspective doesn’t extend far beyond their windshields. They might take another look at the recent study by an outside consultant that showed a big drop in towing of illegally parked cars and a reduction in cars illegally parked in residential neighborhoods since the extension of meter hours in September 2013. And they would do well to look at the West Hollywood’s quarterly sales tax reports for last year, which showed impressive (and sometimes stunning) growth in revenue from restaurants and entertainment businesses, which could be attributed, at least in part, to the decision to extend parking meter hours (and thus parking turnover).
Of course explaining the logic and data to angry constituents waving their parking tickets isn’t your face isn’t easy. “Economics is the painful elaboration of the obvious,” said Friedrich von Hayek. But with four years to go before the next election, it’s worth a try.