Getting a parking ticket is not a crime. If it were, my rap sheet wouldn't be pretty.
It's been especially rough since August, when the city's new parking enforcement arm, Easy Park, was born. Those modern meter maids with their three-wheeled scooters are not to be trifled with. Chances are they've nabbed you too. Ticket revenue between August and December was up 8 percent, from $166,000 to $180,299.
The new sheriff in ticket town is driving meter revenue up as well. I can see why. Now that I've had a couple orange envelopes under my wiper, I'm a lot more apt to scrounge around for quarters. Over at EasyPark headquarters, they call that being part of a "culture of compliance," according to Rick Onstott, the EasyPark director. Meter revenue for the last four months of 2011 was up about 7 percent, from $578,536 to $618,001.
I suspected that parking fees generate some pretty serious money. Readers asked, and I was curious too: When you plug a quarter into a parking meter downtown, or park in an EasyPark lot, or pay a ticket, where does that money go?
I decided to follow my quarters over to EasyPark looking for answers. Getting them was far less straightforward than I expected.
The first thing you might not know is that EasyPark is run by the Anchorage Community Development Authority. EasyPark is easy to understand. It makes money by running parking lots and garages and policing meters. EasyPark's annual budget is about $7 million, Onstott said. It supports itself. The parking entity plans to invest in upgrading every meter in the city in the near term, phasing out quarters in favor of credit cards, he told me. I also learned you can already use a pre-paid parking card at most of the city's meters, though few people do.
I met with ACDA Executive Director Ron Pollock and Onstott in the ACDA office on Sixth Avenue on Tuesday.
The authority is not an easy city agency to deal with as a reporter (and presumably the same goes for members of the public). Getting numbers about ticket and meter revenues required a written request and took the better part of a week. To get an interview, I had to submit my questions in advance.
At the office, Pollock, Onstott and I talked parking for awhile and then I asked about where ACDA fit in. Pollock told me he didn't have time to talk about that side of the operation.
I already knew that the authority, which was born under Mayor Mark Begich, is run by a board appointed by the mayor. There are two Assembly members on the board but they don't have a vote. The authority's mission is to help encourage development in the city that doesn't compete with the private sector. To do that, the authority has been given city land to sell. It also has the ability to negotiate land deals under $6 million with developers without going to the Assembly or involving the community affected by the development. The idea is to lessen developers' risk and streamline the process. Pollock told me the agency had a budget of about $2 million.
You might be familiar with some of ACDA's projects. One of them is Glenn Square Mall in Mountain View. Years after it was constructed, it still has large, empty storefronts. Pollock told me it was a success because it had turned empty land into a productive tax base for the city. The neighbors, however, have been less positive.
Another project is North Pointe Bluff, a half-built subdivision on Government Hill. In that case, ACDA created a financing arrangement for a developer who later got into financial trouble and couldn't meet his obligations. The authority is still looking for buyers for some of its empty lots. ACDA has also been involved in rehabbing and running the JC Penney parking garage, helping to clean up what had been a blighted part of downtown.
But what I really wanted to know was this: Do my meter quarters and ticket money go to support development authority projects? Seemed like a simple question.
At first, Pollock and Onstott told me that no parking money went to support the development operation. Development was supported by land sales, Pollock said. But, they said, all the money from both sides went "into the same pot." I asked if the two organizations shared administrative costs. Pollock said they did. He said he spent about 30 percent of his time on development-related work.
Later I wrote Pollock and asked if he could show me how much revenue the development side of the operation brought in to support itself so it didn't use parking revenue. He sent me budget documents from 2009 and 2010 that didn't answer my question. I called back to clarify.
Wouldn't it be hard to count on land sales for the annual budget? In that case, wouldn't parking money be needed for administrative costs? Pollock said yes, in fact, it would. Over the last five years, that's been needed a couple times, he said. So parking money has been used to pay for ACDA costs? Yes, he said.
So, readers, there you go. Your parking money goes to pay for parking, unless it goes to pay for an authority that makes development deals, the majority of which have not gone as planned.
You had a simple question. The answer was not so simple. And I have to wonder why it was so hard to get one.