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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022
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The Scourge of Compact Parking

In my 10 months working in the San Fernando Valley, it has finally occurred to me that there’s one sign that I dread above others. It sends my blood pressure up when I see it. That sign is this: Compact Cars Only. Oh, sure, it’s a seemingly benign sign that’s common in parking garages. Maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to tumble to the fact that seeing that simple everyday sign means irritation, vexation and frustration will quickly follow. The problem is that the San Fernando Valley has an excess number of parking spaces designed for compact cars. If small-car parking spaces could be exported, we’d be like OPEC. Why so many? Maybe it’s because so much of the Valley was built out when small cars were popular and SUVs were random letters. Maybe it’s because developers here want to boost the number of parking spaces they can report. Regardless, we’ve got a plethora, a surfeit, an overarching overabundance of those maddeningly slim parking slots. Here’s why they’re so bad: They create wasted space. Since there aren’t enough regular-sized slots for today’s SUVs and minivans, motorists are forced to use the stalls designed for compact cars. And the big cars inevitably encroach on the spaces next to them, rendering too many of those spaces unusably skinny. This hit me last week when I drove to a local hospital for a business meeting. It seemed to me that as I drove up the parking structure, compact-only car stalls lined what seemed to be half the garage and each row had at least one open space that tempted me. But each time I got a closer look, I saw that one or both of the vehicles on the sides had encroached into the open stall between them. I couldn’t have wedged my smallish car into any of those spaces without scraping paint. I made my way to the top of the full garage and pondered my options – probably the same ones you face more often than you’d like. Create a rogue space by parking on the end of an aisle? Drive to a neighborhood and find street parking? Give up and go home? Instead I joined a slow procession of three other cars, circling like buzzards waiting for someone to depart. Eventually I got a space, but I couldn’t help lament the eight or 10 “open” parking spaces that were too skinny for any wheeled conveyance other than a skateboard. A thought, a counterintuitive thought, occurred to me: Had there not been so many compact stalls, we buzzards could have parked right away. When I returned to my own office building – which also has way too many compact parking spaces – I stopped to do a bit of scientific field research. (OK, so I walked around the garage for a few minutes. In this age of fake news, I figure that’s scientific enough.) In one row, I counted 15 regular-sized car stalls, each capable of comfortably accommodating a vehicle. Across the aisle, a comparable row for compact cars had 16 stalls. However, only 14 were usable because of all the regular-sized cars and minivans and SUVs that invaded their neighbor’s space. Put simpler: Fewer cars were able to park in the compact row. Think of all the counterintuitive things you know. Calm people are more productive than the frantically busy. It’s safer to skydive than attend a dance party. The more sophisticated the political polls, the worse the results. And now, you can add this to your list of odd counterintuitive facts: The more compact stalls a garage has, the fewer cars it can accommodate. Note to developers, office building landlords and retail center owners: Please, please, please stop building so many compact parking spaces. If you’ve got them already, convert most of them to regular spaces. You’ll increase your parking capacity. And you’ll lower the blood pressure of your workers, customers and grateful visitors. • • • Glendale’s DineEquity sustained a pretty savage beatdown last month by Barron’s. The stock-oriented publication said DineEquity’s shares were overpriced, given the company’s problems. Among other complaints, Barron’s claimed DineEquity was borrowing heavily to keep up its dividend payouts. But a group called DiningStocks.com, which gives its highest equity rating to DineEquity (and is a stockholder), took issue. It said the assertion that DineEquity is borrowing heavily is “bizarre.” It pointed out that DineEquity’s long-term debt has held pretty steady the last three years, and it is down 30 percent from 2008, when it bought Applebee’s. (DineEquity franchises Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants.) It’s true that 63 percent of DineEquity’s free cash flow went to pay dividends last year. That’s normally a high level, but since the company franchises its restaurants and doesn’t need or use a lot of cash, it’s not excessive, DiningStocks wrote. Regardless, the Barron’s article did seem to hurt the company – one of the Valley area’s most prominent public companies. Since Dec. 9, shortly before the article’s publication, DineEquity’s stock has dropped 14 percent. During that same span, the industry as a whole is down less than 1 percent, as measured by the Dow Jones restaurant index. That shows you what a public beatdown can do, even if it isn’t entirely fair. The headline on the Barron’s story said DineEquity’s shares could fall 30 percent. It’s already halfway there. Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@sfvbj.com.

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.
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