Ken Garcia: Workers, families would suffer supervisors’ parking tax plan

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With so many pointless and politically motivated measures on the local ballot this year, it’s no wonder a lot of San Francisco residents are driven to distraction.

But of all the wayward initiatives cluttering the voting pamphlet, none reveal just how out of touch some city supervisors are with the needs of everyday workers and average families quite like Proposition E, this fall’s proposed parking punishment tax.

There are many reasons to oppose another unnecessary increase in The City’s parking tax, not the least of which is that no one had a say in putting it on the ballot because it was done at the 11th hour without any public hearings or input. The intent on behalf of the measure’s author, Chris Daly, appears to be an election-year slap at the ever-elusive “downtown business interests,” when in fact — because garage operators will pass the costs on to customers — it just hits the pocketbooks of people who come to San Francisco to work and shop.

Like so many other last-minute legislative feints, there was no economic analysis done on the tax hike, but it’s fair to say it would have a significant impact on commuters, tourists and all those other poor souls who depend on cars to visit the city of St. Francis.

Residents of San Francisco are already taxed silly for the privilege of living here, and they will likely dip into their pockets again to pass another bond to fix The City’s aging public school facilities. But adding a regressive tax that

doesn’t account for anyone’s ability to pay it makes about as much sense as opening a new downtown shopping mall, encouraging thousands to visit and then sticking them with such excessive parking rates it will ultimately drive them away.

“Instead of passing a tax that will make people stay away, we should be encouraging plans that bring more spending and more jobs to The City,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom, who wrote one of the ballot arguments opposing Prop. E. “You can’t tax your way to prosperity.”

As anyone who must drive and park in San Francisco knows, The City views vehicles as the easiest way to generate revenue — with excessive parking fines and parking rates, and meters that in some locales will buy you four minutes for a quarter. The City already charges the second-highest parking rate in the country, nearly three times what the sunny metropolis of Los Angeles asks its drivers to pay.

The current 25-percent tax on parking rents is nearly five times higher than the state average. Only one city in the nation — Pittsburgh — has a higher parking tax, and that’s probably not a town to which San Francisco wants to invite comparison.

I’m sure some people could debate the merits of San Francisco’s “transit-first” policy, but not if you ride Muni every day. The City’s public transportation system seems to have hit a few bumps in the road recently, with breakdowns, delays and lagging schedule problems. So while a transit-first goal is a lofty idea, it only works as well as the transit system itself. There is no guarantee that any of the revenues raised by an additional tax hike would go to Muni — which is probably why conjuring up new tax measures should be a matter of public discussion.

And there is great irony in the fact that several of the supervisors who agreed to put the tax measure on the ballot raised a huge fuss when The City transit agency wanted to raise its fare by 25 cents — citing the impacts on seniors and families and raising the red flag of economic justice. Yet adding $4 a day to their parking bills doesn’t seem to be a problem, which is why the real facts about Prop. E just don’t add up.

Everyone knows that average working families cannot afford to buy a home in San Francisco. Does it make sense to make it that much more onerous to work and shop here as well? The parking tax may be intended to hurt downtown businesses, but the scattershot approach outlined in Prop. E makes everyone an equal target — construction workers, salespeople and service employees in The City’s hotel, convention and tourism industry.

City residents thumbed their noses at recent attempts to increase the sales tax, and sales tax revenues certainly would go down if the parking tax hike were approved. Several California cities like Sacramento, San Jose and San Diego don’t even have a parking tax, and Beverly Hills actually gives people three free hours of parking to encourage them to shop and dine.

People tend not to look very kindly on more taxation without representation, and with the parking hike measure, that’s exactly what they got.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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