The City is proposing to tighten the standards for its Residential Permit Parking Program. This is the program by which the City transfers to homeowners, for free, effective ownership of a portion of the public right-of-way in front of their houses. The new standards would "raise the bar on documenting need" by, for example, requiring traffic studies.
To the extent this reflects a new-found hostility by City planners to neighborhood demands to exclude outsiders, I'm of course entirely sympathetic. I will also be happy if the new standards make it more difficult for neighborhoods to participate in the RPPP.
But as a matter of policy, this makes no sense. Parking near busy commercial and popular entertainment centers is scarce. It is valuable. The scarcer the parking on commercial corridors, the more valuable the parking spots on residential streets. The City's new standards are simply another way of telling neighborhoods and nearby businesses, "We want to make sure that public demand for parking is really, really high before we ban it." It is as if the City wants to verify that a parking ban will inflict maximum harm.
And parking bans do harm neighboring businesses. It is of course true that spillover parking annoys some homeowners. There is no sense trying to tell them they should not be annoyed -- if you are annoyed, you are annoyed, and that's the end of the matter. But this kind of externality is perfectly symmetric. Banning parking because it annoys a homeowner inflicts a cost on neighboring businesses by stripping them of a portion of their existing, limited supply of parking.
What the City ought to do is minimize the net cost of these externalities. Who cares more? If homeowners value empty asphalt more than neighboring businesses and their customers value parking spaces, then we should assign the spots to the homeowners. And vice versa.
I suspect that in high-demand areas like South Congress, the businesses and their patrons value the spaces more. But there's an easy way to settle this: meter the spaces. The meter income will tell us what value the public places on the spaces. Price the spaces accordingly and then allow homeowners to buy the spaces in front of their homes. The spaces will go to the party who values them the most.
Homeowners would dismiss this policy as unfair because, seriously, who will or can pay a big chunk of money to keep the street clear in front of his home. But that's the point. Complaining is really, really cheap. The City today is transferring property rights from the public to groups of homeowners without any compensation to the public, based on nothing more than cheap talk. We can't tell how much someone really cares until we make him pony up some dough.