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Editorial

L.A.'s garage opener

It's time to lease city-owned parking structures to private businesses.

January 11, 2011

City leaders balanced this year's budget on paper by anticipating revenue from the long-term lease of nine city-owned parking garages. But the lease proposal has met resistance from some businesses, residents and City Council members who have gotten used to the benefits of publicly subsidized parking. It's true that many Los Angeles drivers enjoy below-market-rate fees to park their cars in city garages, but subsidies cannot and should not go on forever, especially now that the city can no longer afford them. Enough idling. It's time to complete the leases, balance the budget and focus city workers and resources on services that are more within the city's core competence.

Los Angeles should never have been in the private parking garage business over the long haul. The plan in question is far different from an earlier, and thankfully scrapped, plan to let private companies set rates and collect fees at street meters, where drivers pay to park for an hour or two on city streets. Residents and their elected representatives should continue to control spaces along public thoroughfares.

The plan before the council is instead to allow private operators to manage mammoth, publicly subsidized garages below the Hollywood & Highland complex, next to the Cinerama Dome and at several other locations in Hollywood, downtown, Westwood, Carthay, Hancock Park and the Valley. For a payment of tens of millions of dollars, investors will keep parking revenues while City Hall will continue to get tax revenues from each driver.

The city should own and operate parks, libraries and other facilities that the private sector is unable or unmotivated to provide. City workers are experts in filling those public needs; they are not experts, and taxpayers should not pay to make them experts, in performing private functions like running garages.

Private companies would be likely to raise rates, and that could make driving, and perhaps shopping, more expensive. There may be limited circumstances in which it makes sense to ask every taxpayer to chip in for cheap parking, which is essentially what the city is doing in many of its garages, to stimulate business in a struggling neighborhood. But it's hard to justify continuing a subsidy to make it as cheap and easy for a driver to skip the Red Line to Hollywood or downtown and to instead add yet another car to congested streets.

If the city does not lease out the garages, it will instead have to slash more of those services that only it can or will handle — not just libraries and parks but public safety, planning and managing traffic. City Hall is out of money. It must focus, now and for the future, on its core functions. The City Council should complete the garage leases and move forward on the continuing fiscal challenges the city faces.

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