State lawmakers take aim at free parking

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State lawmakers are taking aim at what some of them see as a menace to California’s environment: free parking.

There is too much of it, the legislators say, and it encourages people to drive instead of taking the bus, walking or riding a bike. All that motoring is contributing to traffic jams and pollution, according to state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), and on Thursday he won Senate approval of a proposal he hopes will prompt cities and businesses to reduce the availability of free parking.

“Free parking has significant social, economic and environmental costs,” Lowenthal said. “It increases congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.”


Republicans opposed the measure, saying the Legislature should not be meddling in how much people pay to park.

“If local governments want to entice people to shop or do business in a particular area, that is entirely their business. Not the state’s,” said Sen. Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach).

The bill, supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club, provides financial incentives for cities and counties to stop providing free parking on the street and at government offices and to reduce the amount they require businesses to provide.

Cities that take such action could get more state money for parking garages and transit programs and bonus points in competing for state grants.

When a store provides free parking, the cost to maintain, clean, insure, secure and light the parking lot is passed on to shoppers in higher prices for goods, said Justin Horner, an analyst with the NRDC. Free street parking is paid for by the entire community in the form of higher taxes, he said.

Lowenthal said that when businesses pay for their employees’ parking, more of them drive to work.


“It’s nice that we’ve been treated to this luxury,” Lowenthal said. “The problem with free parking is it’s not free.”