In its never-ending quest to nickel and dime Houstonians out of every last dollar, the City of Houston recently announced that it will begin charging for some of the parking spaces at Memorial Park. The City has said that the revenue will help maintain the park. This is absurd on so many different levels that I hardly know where to start.
First, the numbers. The plan is to meter 572 spaces, about a quarter of the total spaces in the park. The charge will be one dollar for three hours. So, let’s assume all of the spaces were used 12 hours a day, 365 days per year. That would bring in about $800,000. Of course, it will not be anywhere close to that. From my experience going to Memorial Park, I would guess that a third of that time would be a generous guess. If so that would bring in $200,000-$300,000 per year. But, of course. all of that is not “profit.” According to the City’s latest budget, it spends about 63 cents for every dollar of parking fees it collects. So, in other words, the City will be lucky if it clears $100,000 per year from this venture.
That is about 2 thousandths of one percent of the City’s annual budget. Eliminating just one of the thousands of bureaucrats at City Hall would save us more than the revenue this incredible inconvenience will net.
Of course the need for more money to maintain Memorial Park begs the question of where is all the money that the Uptown TIRZ was supposed to kick in as part of the 2013 deal to add ten years to its life (and to the misery of the Galleria residents). The current City-approved budget for the Uptown TIRZ has a measly $280,000 (less than 1% of its budget) for “Park Project Program Management.” God save us any more City project managers. How about hiring some guys to pick up the trash or maintain the roads and the trails?
Also, charging for parking is incredibly discriminatory against those who do not live close enough to walk or bike to Memorial Park. The City already spends a disproportionate amount of its parks budget on the “Golden Bowl” (a term dubbed by community activists for Buffalo Bayou, Hermann and Memorial parks. More on that in the near future.) Charging out-lying residents for access to Memorial Park exacerbates the City’s concentration of its parks investment in the Golden Bowl.
Lastly, let me just assure you that this is the proverbial nose under the camel’s tent. What do you think the odds are that the City will be back in no time increasing both the number of spaces that will be metered and the hourly rate? And, of course, be prepared to pay a few parking tickets along the way.
The City does not seem to understand that most people have a choice of where they live and open businesses. For the last twenty years, the City’s growth has been declining, outpaced by its suburbs and other major cities in Texas. Last year it virtually ground to a halt, with the City only adding 7,000 net new residents. And that was before Hurricane Harvey took its toll. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, Harris County suffered a net domestic out-migration of over 45,000 residents last year.[i]
Obviously, the decision to charge for parking in Houston’s most iconic park is a trivial matter in and of itself. But it is symbolic and symptomatic of a larger issue. When you have high property taxes, widespread drainage problems despite residents paying $100 million per year in drainage fees, a police force that does not patrol most neighborhoods and only solves 6% of the burglary cases, streets that look like they should be in the Third World, ambulances breaking down on the way to the hospital . . . I could go on . . . at some point residents reach a breaking point and decide to vote with their feet. Clearly, for many residents, Houston has already reached that point.
[i] “Net Domestic Migration” is the number of individuals who move to Houston from other areas of the United States. It does not include individuals who moved here from a foreign country. The GHP reports that the net international migration for the County was a positive 34,000, resulting in a negative net migration for the County of just over 10,000. The Census Bureau does not break this down municipalities, so we cannot determine how much of out-migration for the County was attributable to the City only. [Click here to review report]