Is the Chronicle going to push for a Houston Parking Authority?
Here are the first paragraph and the last paragraph from today's Move It! column. See if red flags start flying for you:
Last week's debacle with commercial vehicle loading zones has reinforced my view that downtown parking illustrates all that's wrong with municipal government.
The mayor's office has been plotting reform of Parking Management. Next week we'll review the plans to revamp how the city handles street parking.
Uh oh. Has Lucas Wall been chatting with Mayor White? Let me guess what parking reform means: a Houston Parking Authority.
We already have unaccountable government authorities to deal with, such as METRO, the Harris County Toll Road Authority, and the Houston Sports Authority. METRO is currently dealing with its first ever debt, the Houston Sports Authority had to issue new bonds to deal with a revenue shortfall, and the Toll Road Authority, which apparently has no debt or revenue shortage issues, does have a surprising ability to build roads at will, regardless of community input.
Now let's take a look at parking authorities in other cities and how they are structured. Miami has one:
The Miami Parking Authority finances its operations through parking revenues generated by MPA-managed meters, lots and garages. These revenues are also used to fund debt service on MPA's bonds, which are issued to finance the development and construction of new parking facilities.
Funds not used by operations are returned to the City of Miami; all ticket citation revenues are payable directly to Miami-Dade County.
In the case of Metro and the Sports Authority, we've seen what happens when there's more debt than revenue.
And who runs the show in Miami?
The Miami Parking Authority is governed by a voluntary five-member Board of Directors who either live or work within the City of Miami. Board members meet monthly in a public forum and have the powers and responsibilities similar to board members of private corporations.
The City of Miami Commission retains final authority to confirm appointments to the Board, approve MPA's budget, issue parking revenue bonds, and determine parking rates for MPA-managed facilities.
Ugh. The board is appointed. That's what we have now with Metro and the Sports Authority. I don't see a whole lot of community interaction with those unelected officials.
Moving along, Pittsburgh has a Parking Authority:
The Authority was created for the purpose of conducting the necessary research activity to maintain current data leading to efficient operation of on-street parking facilities, and is authorized by law to plan, design, locate, acquire, hold, construct, improve, maintain and operate, own and lease, either in the capacity of lessor or lessee, land and facilities to be devoted to the parking of vehicles of any kind; to borrow money; to make and issue bonds and to secure the payment of such bonds or any of its revenues and receipts; and to make such agreements with the purchasers or holders of such bonds, or with others in connection with any such bonds, as the Authority shall deem advisable.
The Authority has the power of eminent domain and all Authority property is exempt from real estate taxation, except any part of its structures or facilities used for commercial activities. The Authority has no taxing power.
The Authority is governed by a five member Board (the "Board"); appointed by the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh to serve without compensation for staggered terms of five years at the pleasure of the Mayor.
Baltimore, MD's Parking Authority has this structure:
A five member without compensation Board of Directors for which 4 are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council and 1 is a member of the City Council appointed by the City Council President governs the Authority. Each member of the Board serves a 3 year staggered term any may be removed at will by the appointing
And here's Springfield, MA:
The SPA is a public enterprise which is financially independent of the city of Springfield. It uses fees collected at its parking facilities to cover the costs of operation and debt service. The SPA develops its budget based on a break-even analysis and raises its revenues only when needed to cover its cost including capital repairs. The SPA issues its own bonds (with the approval of the mayor), owns property, enters into contracts in its own name, and may exercise its power of eminent domain with the prior approval of the mayor and city council. It also issues its own Parking Violation Notices (parking tickets) for rules infractions in its parking facilities.
What we see here is a general pattern of how these parking authorities operate. A board is appointed, generally by the mayor (no direct citizen input); the board has the power to raise money -- usually in the form of bonds -- to fund new parking structures and improvements, and parking revenue is supposed to pay off those bonds; the board has the power of eminent domain; and, as we see in the case of Miami, extra revenue can go into the city coffers. The authorities are generally touted as self-sustaining, although as we can see from our own Metro and Sports Authority, the best laid plans sometimes go awry. That would mean parking rates would have to go up, to offset debt.
Seeing how well the city has managed other issues (police manpower shortage, red light cameras, SAFEclear, municipal employees pension liability, city loan defaults), I have to wonder if a Houston Parking Authority would be another boondoggle in the making, with unelected officials running an unaccountable government entity.