Mayor’s “Online Budget Challenge” Forces Players to Pick Privatized Parking

Hat tip to reader Ryan Lehman

Privatizing public parking has been referred to in some circles as “the outsourcing of political will” to raise parking fees.  In short, because politicians don’t have the spine to raise parking fees, they sell or lease their parking meters and garages to the highest bidder.  The city has a one-time payment, usually used to fund a related transportation project, and the proud owner of public parking makes a windfall profit over the life of the lease.

Ever since Mayor Villaraigosa first announced his intent to lease the city’s parking meters and garages to temporarily plug the city’s budget hole, the news for supporters of privatized parking has not been good.  Because of the recession, the money to pay for “public-private partnerships” is drying up driving the money that a city can expect for a transportation structure down.  Conversely, in Chicago, the other major American city to privatize, their parking dollars were basically stolen in the name of “public-private partnerships” by the buyer who is getting rich off what should be public funds.

But that isn’t stopping the Mayor from keeping up his public relations campaign.

The city’s website now features an interactive “game” called the Los Angeles Budget Challenge.  Basically, in an effort to “educate” voters and residents on how hard it is going to be for our elected leaders to balance the budget, “players” are asked to make decisions on a series of possible “cuts” and “revenue enhancements” and the site shows you how your decisions can help close the city’s $400 million budget chasm for the 2011 fiscal year.

There’s just one problem, it’s impossible to close the budget in the game without privatizing public metered parking, garage parking, or both.  In politics, this tactic is called a “push poll.”  Instead of actually seeking input, it would appear the point of this series of questions is to push the idea that selling the rights to collect city meter revenues is the holy grail that will magically fix our budget.  There is, of course, no reference to the cost in terms of development or long term fiscal losses that the city will endure under any privatization scheme.

Streetsblog isn’t the only journalist to note the city’s attempt to push parking privatization through the Budget Challenge.  City Watch Greg Nelson writes:

I had the pleasure of meeting him at a national conference in New Hampshire last year and we’ve stayed in contact.  I’m even his Facebook friend.

Tim took the budget survey and noted that if the responders are too achieve the goal of closing the city’s estimated budget deficit, it can’t be done by selecting all of the proposed cost cutting measures. 

The survey is designed so that we must agree to entering into a public-private partnership agreement for at least the city’s parking structures.

Parking privatization isn’t the only Livable Streets Issue that is discussed in the challenge.  After the jump you can see screen shots of questions on open space, transportation funding, parking privatization, and parking fees.


  • I fully support privatizing parking meters. People always point out that Chicago isn’t making money from it, while a private company is…..but the government would never have been able to raise rates to 4.50 an hour like the private company did. So Chicago isn’t missing out on money, because they never would have gotten it.

    But Chicago does benefit in that parking is now priced correctly.

  • How useful are politicians if they are scared to do what they need to do? I would much rather the city raise the rates then sell these meters and garages cheaply and have a private company raise the rates.

    How does Chicago benefit from higher meter fees being collected by a private company?

    Over here in Glendale the city decided to put meters in on one of the main shopping streets, and combined with the recession, no one is parking on that street.

  • RE: How does Chicago benefit from higher meter fees being collected by a private company?

    Because it makes mass transit more appealing by pricing parking correctly. It also ensures turnover, which you do not get when parking at a meter is $1 an hour.

    It’s not all about the money.

    I would also “much rather the city raise the rates then sell these meters and garages cheaply and have a private company raise the rates.” But that doesnt happen. Oakland tried it, look what happened there.

  • “I think meter privatization is a good idea therefore I like that the mayor did a dishonest poll.”

    That is a pretty shitty argument. The mayor has abused his role as the outreach point to the public in the budget process, employing hack surveys and stupid power point presentations put together by poli-sci and communications flunkies.

    I went through a round of “The Mayor’s Budget Talks! ™” with neighborhood council members a few years ago, and after a few hours into it the bullshit PR stench told me I had wasted countless hours wasting my time preparing for the “meeting” I got with the mayor and 16 other Neighborhood Council people.

    This part of the mayor’s job comes from the charter reform of 2000, and Villaraigosa has milked the free PR and outreach budget to push his agenda. Too bad his agenda is a hollow mandate to make sure he is popular and his benefactors are well taken care of.


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Thus far, the discussion on how to, and whether to move forward with a plan to privatize the city’s metered street parking has focused on what impact a similar plan has had in Chicago.  The final deal between the Windy City and Morgan Stanley netted Chicago $1.16 billion up front, for turning over parking revenue, […]