Parking Tax as Popular as Dented Fender

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Los Angeles, where cars are a way of life, commuters already complain about traffic congestion, smog and downtown gridlock caused by Metro Rail construction. Soon, they may face something else: a 10% tax on the price of parking a car.

The new tax--disclosed Friday as part of Mayor Tom Bradley's 1990-91 budget proposal--would be the first of its kind in Los Angeles and would raise an estimated $22.5 million in general fund revenues beginning July 1.

But to motorists who now pay $12 to $15 a day to park in some downtown lots, the notion was welcomed like a swift kick in the fender.

"I think it stinks," said Donna Wellington, a Simi Valley resident who had just paid $12 to remove her car from a commercial lot across the street from City Hall. If the tax is adopted, the $12 fee would rise to $13.20.

"If it were to go toward the improvement of parking lots or more parking, then I think it would be good," Wellington said. "But I don't feel they should single out certain taxpayers to balance their budget. It's not fair."

The tax, representing roughly 1% of city revenues in the proposed $2.4-billion budget, is subject to City Council approval in hearings that could last until June 1. The levy would apply to all pay lots in the city except those administered by the county, state or federal government, said city finance specialist Rex Olliff.

The tax would affect commercial lots, company lots at which employees pay to park and lots used for special events, such as at Dodger Stadium.

The proposal was denounced by Stanley Long, president of the Los Angeles-based Parking Assn. of California, a group that represents about 50 commercial lot operators. Long said his organization would fight the plan, just as it did nearly 20 years ago when a similar, 25% parking tax was proposed during Mayor Sam Yorty's Administration.

That earlier plan, patterned after a law enacted in San Francisco, was defeated by the Los Angeles City Council after lot owners and commuters flooded City Hall with 250,000 postcards, according to Long. Bradley, then a council member, joined 13 of his colleagues in defeating the measure, Long said.

"A tax like that is onerous and negative," Long said. "The (financial) burden gets passed on to the consumer. And to get there in this city . . . you've got to be able to park the damn car. It's critical."

Olliff said the so-called parking-use tax was suggested to Bradley as one option for boosting city revenues. Other options included an increase in the utility tax charged on consumers who use electricity and natural gas, or an increase in hotel bed taxes, Olliff said. Bradley selected the parking tax, which would collect dollars even from non-Los Angeles residents who use city streets.

City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the three-member Budget and Revenue Committee that will begin considering the tax on Monday, said he is not sure how much the City Council may balk at the plan, if at all.

"I'm curious myself to know whether there is going to be a lot of controversy," he said. "I want to find out how it works. I don't know whether this is the best revenue source or whether there would be some better revenue source."

A few commuters--such as Renee Hill of Long Beach, who was making her first visit to downtown Los Angeles--said the idea seems a good one. But most drivers and lot owners either attacked the proposal or declined to comment.

An official at Joe's Auto Parks, which calls itself the largest private parking company in Los Angeles with about 100 lots and 10,000 parking spaces, reacted to Bradley's plan by saying, "He's got to be out of his mind. We're struggling already. Everything's killing us--Metro Rail construction, one-way streets, the RTD low fares. They're killing the parking industry."

But the official declined to be quoted by name.

Bob Smith, director of operations for Dodger Stadium, which now charges $3 to park in one of its 16,000 spaces, said he was not aware of the possible tax. "We cannot comment until we've seen it," he said.

Office equipment salesman Scott Hicks, 24, of Santa Ana, said he spends about $90 a month on parking as he moves about between downtown and Santa Monica. "I can't go into downtown without $20 in my pocket just for parking," he said. "I'm reimbursed . . . but I shell out a lot of money. I wouldn't like (the tax) at all."

Attorney William R. Moore, who works in the One Wilshire building, said his firm picks up his parking costs of more than $150 a month. But he questioned how much the tax would hurt the owners of newly completed downtown office towers, which will be struggling to find tenants.

"There's going to be a lot of excess commercial space," Moore said, adding: "I don't know where the custodians . . . park. I would think (the tax) would be a fair chunk of change for them."

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