Jim Baer: There’s no end in sight for Concord parking problems

For the Monitor
Published: 7/14/2018 12:09:57 AM

We are having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave. Noel Coward mused that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Being neither a mad dog or English, melancholy got the best of me on a recent sunny day.

There I was, relaxing next to the pool with a glass of chilled rum punch, staring up at the clouds with their strange and fanciful shapes and wistfully thinking about how pleasant it would be to live somewhere where people don’t fret about public parking problems.

My repose was soon interrupted with the sudden ominous appearance of storm clouds. What began as a glorious summer day soon turned into a tropical downpour. I gathered my drink and suntan lotion, and retreated to air-conditioned bliss.

That was a metaphor for how sometimes good things can go horribly wrong.

Parking. As a teenager, parking had a very different connotation. It was about borrowing my dad’s car, picking up my girlfriend and heading to some remote country lane to enjoy the sunset.

Parking has now become an expensive proposition in Concord. An insightful article in the Monitor written by Caitlin Andrews laboriously chronicled the long public parking struggle that the Concord city government managed to create and then failed to deal with.

There is a lot of blame and finger-pointing to go around. Years of neglected maintenance of our city-owned parking garages, ineptly written contracts for long-term parking spaces, obfuscating which city department is responsible for this or that all amplify a callous disregard for serious parking reform. Andrews’s article read like Homer’s Odyssey, with Odysseus replaced by city council members. It took Odysseus 10 years to complete his return to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. Our parking problems shame his adventures and go back many decades.

The core problem is not about parking. It’s a culture at city hall dedicated to spending $270 million over a 10-year period on capital-intensive projects. Issues like the insolvent parking fund get kicked under the table with half-hearted and insincere attempts to rectify all of the city’s obligations related to parking issues. Tinkering with adjusting the parking rates, hours and fines will only exacerbate the problems by increasing the number of enforcement and maintenance personnel and capital equipment needed to cover the newly extended parking hours and expanded parking regulations. It’s penny wise, pound foolish.

We do not have parking issues. We have profligate spending issues. Parking gets caught in the crossfire. The parking solutions that Andrews addressed in her article are all window dressing. The funds needed for a serious and meaningful solution to our city parking problems will never happen as long as the city council and administration are obsessed with questionable capital-intensive projects that suck up huge quantities of money – money that could offer long-term solutions to many other important city issues, including our parking problems.

Take mine and the Beach Boys’ advice: Enjoy the summer breezes, refresh your rum cooler and relax. You are on a fool’s errand if you believe any advice that you or I care to offer concerning parking will make any difference at city hall. The stars in their courses have willed that Concord, unlike Odysseus, will forever be in parking hell.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)

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