Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joel Ramos is annoyed


Joel Ramos didn't like the Dogpatch/Portrero Hill uprising against MTA's plan to put parking meters in those neighborhoods:

I thought that a lot of the tenor that was coming from the community was rude, to put it nicely. I certainly hope that we can move forward in this conversation with a little more respect with one another...From the way that I see it, we are looking at a budget deficit, and if we don’t get this hole addressed it’s going to translate to service cuts and that translates into attacks on our most vulnerable population.

The people objecting to parking meters in their neighborhoods didn't understand that, in Ramos's mind, MTA and City Hall are their overlords and that people who own cars in the neighborhoods are primarily sources of revenue for an improvident city government.

Ramos claims to be worried about Muni's budget deficit, but he and other "smart growth" advocates support the Central Subway project, to which MTA itself is contributing $163,890,000 in---wait for it---parking revenue! (see page 4 of this document) And of course he and his pals at TransForm support the grandaddy of all boondoggles, the high-speed rail project.

Mayor Lee appointed bike guy Ramos to the MTA board last year. I warned readers at the time that, like Cheryl Brinkman, he would be another militant anti-car person on the board. The MTA website provides a brief overview of his background:

Through his personal transit advocacy and professional work in community planning at TransForm, Mr. Ramos has been active on several other Bay Area committees that are committed to providing better pedestrian, bicycling, and transit infrastructure, as well as more affordable housing through transit oriented development. Since 2008, Director Ramos has been an active volunteer on the Geary Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit Community Advisory Committee.

Like a lot of organizations in the dumb "smart growth" movement, TransForm is anti-car. "Smart growth" is the umbrella concept under which other sketchy ideas, like "affordable housing through transit oriented development," flourish in planning circles. This means that San Francisco, for example, can supposedly build an almost unlimited amount of new housing along any street in the city that has a major Muni line. 

Both UC's massive housing development on lower Haight Street and the Market and Octavia Plan are touted as "transit-oriented," but neither really includes a significant amount of affordable housing. Nor does either project provide more money for transit. And developers are limited in the amount of parking they can provide for the thousands of new housing units in both the UC development (1,000 new residents in 450 units) and the Market/Octavia project (10,000 new residents in 4,440 units).

Check out this height map from the Market/Octavia Plan for the Market and Van Ness intersection. This is what our Planning Department and folks like Ramos consider "smart growth." These will be residential highrises, not commercial real estate, and that plan includes no money for Muni to handle thousands of new residents. Let them ride bikes!

Interesting too that Ramos is on the Geary Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit Community Advisory Committee. There's already some suspicion in the avenues that the Geary BRT is a project fronting for eventual "smart growth" along Geary Boulevard. The fox is now in the hen house!

A few years ago Ramos and TransForm tried to push through a poorly-conceived BRT project in the east bay, where their tactics prompted this criticism:

TransForm is recognized as a completely undemocratic organization that is primarily funded by pro-development groups to promote construction of high-rise residential buildings. This group regularly organizes outsiders to come into communities to try to manipulate their decisions about transit systems and development. TransForm routinely mischaracterizes its involvement with the communities it claims to represent—calling what it does “cooperative engagement,” when it is really coercion and manipulation. And its representatives routinely misrepresent the views of the public at regional and local meetings. (They actually do this so often that they ought to be called misrepresentatives.)

I challenged Joel Ramos, the community planner for TransForm, to attend at least one meeting with the community members in Berkeley if he was going to continue to talk about their beliefs, but he failed to do so. He also refused my request to debate him in public about BRT. You may have noticed that this a common behavior among BRT supporters—they always shy away from a fair fight in public, preferring instead to use one-sided forums to propagate their suspect values where they won’t be challenged in any way.

Parking meters = $ = helping Muni, MTA commissioner asserts
by Rachel Gordon

Municipal Transportation Agency staff has been emphasizing that the meters are needed as a tool to better manage parking in neighborhoods where finding a legal spot is already tough and expected to get worse. But Joel Ramos, who serves on the oversight board and who supports the meter expansion plan, said the prospect for more money also is at play.

“From the way that I see it, we are looking at a budget deficit and if we don’t get this hole addressed it’s going to translate to service cuts and that translates into attacks on our most vulnerable population,” Ramos said.

Much of the city’s parking revenue is used to fund Muni transit service, which has been hit with fare increases and service cuts.

Ramos also took some of the most vocal opponents of the meter proposal to task. “I did hear a lot of hyperbole at that meeting,” he said in reference to a packed community forum he attended on Jan. 30 in which members of the public vented their anger and frustration at Reiskin and other transportation agency officials in the room.

“I thought that a lot of the tenor that was coming from the community was rude, to put it nicely. I certainly hope that we can move forward in this conversation with a little more respect with one another.

“We do need to come to some sort of compromise,” Ramos added, “and I think that the MTA has demonstrated that willingness to reach out to the community, but we have to come to a place starting where we agree, and I think I did hear refreshingly that there was a substantial amount of folk that did recognize that free parking isn’t free, and we need to find a way to accommodate the needs of the city through a better look at how we can better manage the parking there.”

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20 Comments:

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Nato said...

His point that free parking isn't free seems pretty strong. Maybe that's why there are people upset in Potrero and the Dogpatch: they were getting a free service from the city and the city wants to start charging for it.

I'm also a little confused as to why the high map around Van Ness/Market is somehow a bad thing. Most transit systems have low marginal costs, such that additional ridership is a net benefit, not a loss. Thus positioning more residents around Muni stops would seem to be revenue positive from the get-go rather than requiring some additional money as you seemed to imply when you wrote, "...that plan includes no money for Muni to handle thousands of new residents."

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Parking is in fact "free" in many outlying neighborhoods in SF, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be. As many of the people that annoyed Ramos the other day pointed out, they don't get much service from City Hall on anything, especially Muni, even as they pay high property taxes to city government.

"Low marginal costs"? Muni's budget is around $700 million a year in a city that itself is chronically in the red.

Muni during rush hour now has standing room only and is near capacity on all major lines.

"Smart growth"/dense development is only superficially plausible. Cities have density standards for a reason, and one of the most important is traffic. If you bring 10,000 new residents into that part of the city, you're also bringing in a lot more traffic.

You obviously didn't read any of the links I provided about how MTA is spending the parking revenue it raises from parking meters, parking lots, and parking tickets---on the Central Subway project, for one thing, which is a political deal disguised as a transportation project. People wouldn't be so "rude" to city representatives if they thought City Hall was using all the money it raises wisely.

SF raises more than $170 million a year from parking, but it still has to borrow money just to pave our streets.

The whole "smart growth" ideology is based on trendy anti-car bullshit, as if Americans are going to give up the mobility and convenience of motor vehicles and switch to inadequate public transit or, even more implausibly, bicycles.

After more than ten years of pro-bike, anti-car propaganda, only 3.5% of city commuters ride bikes to work.

More residents make a "revenue positive" contribution to Muni? Muni now only makes 25% of its revenue from fares, which means that there would have to be an awful lot of new passengers to make a difference in its finances---even if it had room for a lot of new passengers.

The kind of development planned for Market and Van Ness will radically change that part of town and not for the better. Highrise development will have an even worse impact on residential neighborhoods in the city.

One of the originators of the "transit corridors" idea is dismayed at how our Planning Dept. is applying his theory to neighborhoods in SF.

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

I'll send you some more tin foil for your hat.

 
At 9:03 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, it's through the looking glass for the former cyclist of the year, where Smart Growth is revealed Truth, and the bicycle is more than just a transportation "mode": It's a sacred symbol.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger Mikesonn said...

"Parking is in fact "free" in many outlying neighborhoods in SF, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be."

The Dogpatch, North Mission, and Portrero are anything but "outlying".

 
At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Nato,"I'm also a little confused as to why the high map around Van Ness/Market is somehow a bad thing".

I live 45 feet from the area of South VanNess and Mission where the whole area has been proposed for 450' residential high rise development, which is planned to have extremely limited on-site parking. My residential enclave is comprised of 40' two story apartment buildings that have been here since right after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Right now the people renting here are predominately blue collar folks such as painters, carpenters and other crafts people that use their trucks during the day and are in and out of the neighborhood. When the high rise residential towers are completed, the people living there will still likely own cars, and even if only a third of them own cars they will be cruising our area all day and night looking for street parking. We are caught between a rock and hard place. People that buy those high rise units will still have cars, you cannot guarantee otherwise, and even if you can it is likely transit will not accommodate the demand for the thousand of extra riders.

Oh and about on street parking, if meters are dumped on our blocks here it will just take like $15 a day out of our pockets...that could be used to pay half my monthly PGE bill. Get a clue please.

 
At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Right now the people renting here are predominately blue collar folks such as painters, carpenters and other crafts people that use their trucks during the day and are in and out of the neighborhood."

BULLSHIT!

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger Nato said...

"Parking is in fact "free" in many outlying neighborhoods in SF"

No, they are not. Those streets are maintained by the city, and the land is kept from other uses, which means the opportunity cost is huge. The city is providing a service that is free to those who park their cars, but it isn't free.

""Low marginal costs"? Muni's budget is around $700 million a year in a city that itself is chronically in the red."

Note that I said "marginal" costs. More than half of Muni's costs are fixed, which is the reason why they have to cut 10% of service to cut 5% of the budget, and the reality is even worse than that because it includes delaying fixed costs like repairs. Further, residential towers have a spread ridership profile relative to commercial towers, thus spreading trips across more of the day rather than being so concentrated at peak. The big money-losing times for Muni (like other transit systems) is in the off-peak, and the more we can shift use from peak to off-peak, the higher average utilization becomes and the better the farebox recovery rate will become. Placing more housing along the corridors where all the lines come together seems like a great policy, if growth is going to be allowed at all.

Is the preferred alternative that no growth is allowed and SF just doesn't accept new residents? That will help drive up my property values, I suppose, but I don't believe in the imposition of artificial scarcity. People want to live in cities and create businesses in cities like SF for good reasons, and anti-growth policies simply enrich existing property owners at the expense of everyone else.

By all means protect the character of neighborhoods as best as possible, but perfect protection means no change, forever.

I am also suspicious of the Central Subway thing, though I don't know enough about it to have strong opinions either way.

@Anon: I had a car when I lived on Natoma, and a rented a parking space for it for a while that was a lot less than $15/day - more like $6. As for the blue-collar renters - I have to assume that these are long term rent-controlled units? Think of it this way - you'll trade free parking for lower crime.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Look, Nato, you're just winging it here. Your long comment is fact-free. I understand that you Libertarians are Big Thinkers with a lot of Big Thoughts, but to me dialogue on this level of abstraction is a waste of time.

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger Nato said...

Very well, you don't like my 'abstractions.' However, I think I touch on most of the factors motivating city planners to find a way to transition away from devoting massive amounts of city capital toward accommodating the maximum number of cars to accommodating the long term goals of the city. Of course, those can come into conflict with peoples' preferences, since people want free parking, and low taxes, and clean streets, and high quality transit, and bike lanes (except you, of course) all at the same time, so you can't make everyone happy. And in order to decide how to triage everything, it's necessary to figure out what things cost, what's fiscally sustainable and what's efficient. From all I can tell, Rob, you're effectively against any change to the city as it stands. Maybe that's a mischaracterization, but all I see are criticisms of proposals, not alternatives. Further, the criticisms seem to all center around things being 'anti-car' (is car welfare the city's primary concern?) or things costing money. It's like you start an argument for your position but never conclude it. It makes you sound like a crank.

 
At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

any post with "thinking" is a waste of time as your mind is a "thought free zone".

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Again, you don't cite a single fact in your comment, nothing but abstract nouns and hot air.

 
At 6:38 PM, Blogger Nato said...

Rob, do you *have* a position that is not simply a negation of someone else's? What do you think the city should do?

 
At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Mario said...

Rob,

This is a fact that Nato cited that you haven't bothered refuting at all, just winging it:

BEGIN QUOTE
Those streets are maintained by the city, and the land is kept from other uses, which means the opportunity cost is huge. The city is providing a service that is free to those who park their cars, but it isn't free.
END QUOTE

The above is a fact. Maybe you think that the city should provide parking for free, but the fact is that money not earned is money lost. If you own a garage, you make money and the city is undercutting your business by providing free parking. If you made your garage free, you will not only be in the red, having to maintain something you don't earn anything off, but you lost an opportunity to make money and invest in even more garages or provide for yourself.

In addition the city loses even more money by letting drivers circle looking for parking, thus blocking Muni, slowing it down, which means it is now more expensive to operate. That's what SFPark is also designed to fix.

The job of the city is to ensure the most efficient and equitable transportation for all. And neither storing nor transporting single-occupant vehicles is efficient transportation. And it also isn't equitable. The subsidy going to parking is much greater than the subsidy going to transit/bicycling and so on. It also creates a feedback loop (bias reinforcement), whereas more people make the choice to own a single occupant vehicle because they don't have to pay for the cost of parking, creating a political base of single occupant vehicle NIMBYs.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The city is supposed to take care of our streets, but it isn't even doing that lately. If you're really interested in "facts," recall that last November city voters passed a bond to borrow money to take care of city streets, a very bad deal for city taxpayers, who will end up paying more than $180 million in interest for borrowing $248 million.

That's the real issue: an improvident City Hall, swimming in red ink, and mishandling all the money it raises, throwing a lot of the parking revenue into the Central Subway pit even as our Muni system is underfunded. Extending parking meters into the neighborhoods isn't really about parking; it's about an irresponsible City Hall desperate for more money to maintain a bloated city payroll and pay for dumb projects.

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger Nato said...

Rob, I take it you believe that if revenue was reduced then the city would be less profligate? As you've pointed out, it has already been borrowing money, so it seems like it would lead to borrowing *more* money. Or raising property taxes or some other tax. By all means oppose the Central Subway on the merits, but opposing parking revenue because it would reduce the city's deficit under the idea that it would squeeze out the subway doesn't seem like a good idea.

 
At 10:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's a political problem, not an economic problem. SF's economy is so dynamic---thanks mostly to tourism and property taxes---that it can absorb some dumb projects and policies.

No, I wouldn't give the folks now in City Hall any more money. I voted against the street bond last November, but people like me were overruled by the "progressive" steamroller and the permanent city government of special interests, non-profits, and our lame media, both mainstream and pseudo-leftists at the Bay Guardian, etc.

They're wasting millions now, and the neighborhoods are supposed to help bail them out by allowing parking meters in the districts!

At least you seem to understand that this is about money, not parking. People in the neighborhoods should just say no to providing any more money to a City Hall that can't even pave our streets without borrowing money.

 
At 3:10 PM, Anonymous sfpedestrian said...

A 5 May 2011 sfgate entry pointed out that "Ramos doesn’t own a car — his wife does, however."

Funny how all the "transit" types have no difficulty managing in the City as long as they have a wife who uses the car to schlep the kids to school, do the grocery shopping, be an on-call chauffeur.

You see the exact same thing in the Bike Coalition, their big award winners have a little gal with a car behind the scenes to do all the real work so they can play.

 
At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

... and this being a community property state, Ramos does, in fact, own half a car. If they were to get divorced, I guarantee that his attorney would take that position.

 
At 12:48 AM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Nato made a hilarious claim: "I don't believe in the imposition of artificial scarcity" That is the major methodology for decreasing car usage - converting shared travel lanes into bike only, increasing congestion, slowing traffic flows for non-bikes, removing and limiting parking, and giving all services to cyclists for free. Motorists pay user fees per mile in the form of gas tax, while cyclists pay no costs proportional to use. Cycling only looks attractive when driving is made miserable, ie artificial scarcity of infrastructure.

 

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