California CRAs Rush to Pave Paradise, Put Up a Parking Lot


Tim Cavanaugh has written before about the failure of California's Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) to bring promised benefits to communities and about cities' shameless attempts to suck up as much money as they can before Gov. Jerry Brown shuts off the tap.

Here's one more reason to hate the CRAs: They have a nasty habit of subsidizing enormous parking projects. Los Angeles's CRA is scrambling to fund a $52 million parking "improvement" for a billionaire's art museum, but as a Bay Area blogger with the pseudonym "Drunk Engineer" writes, Los Angeles is hardly alone:

The vast majority of redevelopment funds has been spent promoting autocentric development. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, redevelopment agencies leveled whole neighborhoods to make way for new highways. When that became unfashionable, planners left the homes intact but still didn't give up on autocentric design. Billions of tax dollars have been poured into strip malls and other retail. Boosting sales tax revenue is the name of the game. And since transit riders are perceived as spending less than car drivers, redevelopment was about enticing shoppers to drive and park in the neighborhood.

The Drunk Engineer then goes on to catalog a handful of recent subsidized parking projects in downtown San Jose alone which have received hundreds of millions in CRA money.

As Robert Fogelson wrote in his definitive urban history Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950, mid-century urban planners and businessmen were convinced that subsidized parking and eminent domain-ilicious highway projects were the only way to revive America's ailing urban centers. Anyone who's ever had the misfortune of existing outside of an automobile in one of these "redeveloped" downtowns can see the downsides of these schemes, but California's local politicians remain undeterred. Nationwide, cities are finally coming to their senses and realizing the folly in underpricing and overmandating parking, but California is plowing full steam ahead with projects straight out of a GM exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair.

California cities could use a lesson from UCLA's own Donald Shoup, the "prophet of parking," on how to undo America's massive parking subsidies ("somewhere between what we pay for Medicare every year and national defense"):