Sell Land, Not Parking

Parking “privatization” seems to me to continue to drift in a kind of policy dead zone veering between two perfectly good ideas without actually hitting on either:

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a letter Monday urging the City Council to move ahead with his plan to get budget revenue by leasing nine parking garages to a private company, saying he will lay off more employees if the deal is abandoned. […] Business groups in Hollywood, Westwood and downtown have criticized the plan, fearing that a private company would hike rates and drive away customers. Villaraigosa said in his letter the city can no longer afford to manage parking garages and insisted that “the era of free parking in Los Angeles is over.”


I’m seeing two potentially good ideas here. One is that maybe the city owned parking garages are underpriced and overcrowded, in which case the city should raise prices. Another good idea is that maybe the city should sell the parking garages. A private landowner would probably keep operating them as garages for a while, but when the economy’s growing again might redevelop the parcels into some more efficient use of the land. But this kind of lease scheme — like a similar one under consideration in New Jersey — doesn’t capture the benefits of private ownership, it just introduces a new tier of rent-seekers into land use process. It’s essentially a backdoor way for the city to get a loan.