The War Against Free Parking

From San Diego to Susanville, Californians know that a free parking space is hard to find. Such spaces may be even harder to find under SB 518, proposed by state senator Alan Lowenthal. Like much of what emerges from Sacramento, the measure is at least instructive.

Free parking only encourages people to drive, which causes pollution and endangers the planet. That’s the premise of SB 518. The measure is a follow-up to AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires the state of California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. As the politically correct thinking goes, through this measure, supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, California is leading the planetary rescue team, at no cost to the economy, and with no inconvenience to ordinary working people.

Climate ideology was shaky when AB 32 was passed and since then has taken some major hits. As the Wall Street Journal noted last week, “Climate group admits to mistakes.” That group is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose own authors concede to bias and advocacy in IPCC reports. Contrary to what many legislators assume, the nature and causes of climate change are not matters of settled science.

The ongoing Climategate scandal confirms that scientists are more than willing to rig the data and attack or exclude those of contrary views. Such a shaky ideology is hardly basis for legislation that makes demands on the economy and workers, especially those of limited means.

It is not their fault that California, more than many other states, is geared to the automobile. Contrary to what some legislators believe, in most of California the automobile is not a luxury but a necessity of life, particularly when many Californians are in search of jobs.

Legislators might consider this syllogism. Working Californians are members of the public. Many choose to transport themselves to work and other places in cars. Therefore the car is public transportation.

The car is certainly the favored mode of public transportation for state legislators. Courtesy of taxpayers, they enjoy a state-provided vehicle and per-diem funds more than what many workers earn in a year. As Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee observed:

“To compound the disconnection with reality, the Senate chambers where the vote [on SB 518] occurred sits about 50 feet above an underground garage reserved exclusively for members of the Legislature and other officials to park the cars that taxpayers provide for them. When they give up their per diem, their cars and their garage and start using increasingly less frequent bus and trolley service, maybe we’ll take them seriously.”

Walters dismissed the parking measure as “just another amusing bit of hypocrisy.” It’s actually more than that. Sen. Lowenthal’s measure confirms how much climate dogma, and the notion that one state can save the world, has supplanted common sense.

By the standard of common sense, cities and businesses should decide how much free parking they shall provide. Ordinary Californians should decide whether they drive cars, the practice of their legislators, or take a different form of public transportation.

Sen. Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat, denies his measure is against free parking and has hinted at “market-based solutions.” That would be a good move. So would a revision of AB 32, and other environmental legislation, in light of the ongoing climate scandal.

If California is to play a role in improving the global environment, it will have to be based on sound science. In the meantime, legislators can occupy themselves with such practical tasks as balancing the state budget, paying the bills, and improving the state’s woeful business climate.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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