The City of Oakland turned on parking meters at Lake Merritt two weeks ago. Residents are split on whether they will be beneficial for the community at-large. Credit: Jose Fermoso

About three years after the city’s parks department first suggested Oakland enforce stricter parking limits around Lake Merritt, metered enforcement finally began on Monday, March 13. 

People visiting the lake who wish to park on one of the streets adjacent to it now have to pay a rate starting at $2 an hour. The city has the ability to flex prices to a more expensive rate of up to $4 on busy days and the weekends, according to the current Master Fee Schedule. Meters are enforced from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. 

Previously, cars could park on Lakeshore Avenue, Bellevue Avenue, and Lake Merritt Boulevard for three hours at a time free of charge. Many visitors often left their cars parked longer due to a lack of enforcement by the city. Attempts to enforce time limits in recent years have sometimes led to confrontations between city staff and drivers.

Oakland’s Department of Transportation will be in charge of enforcing the new parking rules at Lake Merritt—a job that used to be handled by the Oakland Police Department. This change is part of Oakland’s attempt to remove non-violent tasks from the police so they can focus on homicides, burglaries, and other crimes. 

People can pay for parking with cash or a card on one of 20 new parking kiosks installed on the perimeter of the lake, or they can pay using the ParkMobile app on their smartphones. Different parts of the lake have different numbered zones, so if a driver is moving from one part of the lake to the other, such as from the Lake Chalet to Lakeshore Avenue, they have to pay again. Each zone is numbered and visible on a curbside sign and on the app. 

The Department of Transportation told The Oaklandside it will provide one warning for first-time parking meter offenders until April 30. If you receive a second or additional parking citation before that date, you will have to pay for it.

Most of the meters were installed in February, months after they were supposed to go up. Oakland’s Lake Merritt Working Group, the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, and all of the city council members recommended or approved the addition of the parking meters. 

Oakland is expected to receive nearly $2 million a year in parking fees at the lake after the first year of operation. The money will support improved park maintenance and add traffic safety infrastructure, including a new stop light on Lakeshore Avenue. Councilmember Nikki Bas said last year the meters would help promote parking turnover, giving more people the opportunity to park, and would also improve traffic conditions.

Some people are surprised and upset

A local plant seller who goes by Tucker told The Oaklandside he paid for parking at Lake Merritt. He said it is an overreaction by the city to the lake’s problems. Credit: Jose Fermoso

Each time The Oaklandside has visited the lake to talk with visitors about the new parking meters, we’ve heard from locals who are opposed to the plan.

Kayee Anderson, who was talking on the phone inside her car while parked on Lakeshore Avenue last Friday, told The Oaklandside she was surprised to learn about the new rules. She often meets at the lake with friends from Antioch and San Francisco to relax or work out, and said she would likely find a new place to congregate. 

“This lake brings a lot of people together. But [adding meters], they’re trying to rob us of our dollar. If they enforce it, they’ll lose a lot of support,” she said.

Stacey Dulan, a long-time Oaklander whose family came to the Bay Area during the Great Migration of Black people from the South after World War II and who lives near the lake, said metered parking constituted a “disheartening” development that’s part of a larger gentrifying movement. 

“Public areas are supposed to be accessible areas to the masses. Wealthy people are coming in here for this climate and they will price us out,” she said. 

Dulan said the city should have done a better job alerting residents to the plan before finalizing it last year.  

Tucker, an older resident who was selling succulent plants next to one of the new meters on Lakeshore Avenue and asked us not to use his last name, said he didn’t mind paying the meter. But he thinks the change will make the lake a bit of a “ghost town,” with people unwilling to go there as a form of protest. 

“Oakland let alcohol [consumption] get out of control on Lakeshore Avenue and this is now an indirect way of controlling what happens around here,” Tucker said. He believes the city overreacted to the noise, trash, and other problems from parties around Lake Merritt. 

People online have reacted even more strongly to the changes. 

One Oaklander, Maria Pecot, has created a petition to get rid of the meters. About 275 people have signed it.

“This parking plan will not only make a day at Lake Merritt cost-prohibitive to low-income individuals and families; it will also severely impact street parking in nearby neighborhoods, and threaten the livelihood of nearby businesses by subjecting customers to unprecedented parking fees,” she wrote. 

Many others think it will benefit the lake

Several people The Oaklandside spoke with at the lake or over social media this week expressed support for the meters. 

Ken B. told us he understood why the city took “measures into their own hands.” He said not enough people in Oakland pay taxes or vote, leading to budget problems for the city, which needs to raise revenue to keep the lake clean. 

Jame Ervin wrote on Instagram that money collected from the meters will be used to improve the environment around the lake and that that is something to look forward to. She also is encouraged by the demand-based pricing that will keep the price to park at $2 an hour most of the time, instead of the highest possible prices. She noted that even the highest lake parking prices are cheaper than other parks across the Bay, where they can go over $8 an hour. 

“Free parking, in my opinion, encourages the people who live there to leave their cars and makes it harder for people to visit who need to drive,” she told The Oaklandside.

Boris Johnson, a software engineer who moved to the Bay Area a few years ago, said, “Free parking in an urban city doesn’t make a lot of sense. As long as the money goes to conserving the lake, I have no problem with it.”

Johnson added that people can still reach the lake on several AC Transit bus lines, or by parking for free in nearby neighborhoods and then walking several blocks. 

“People want to drive everywhere and space is at a premium. Plus there’s plenty of parking around,” he said. 

In the lead-up to the final City Council vote last year, council members Carroll Fife and Nikki Fortunato Bas added amendments to look into ways for low-income residents to take the AC Transit bus to the lake for free. The City Council and the Department of Transportation did not respond to questions about whether they’ve made progress on this plan. 

Members of the public who wish to discuss the parking meters at the lake can do so by contacting their City Council member, or at meetings for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, which meets every second Wednesday of the month at 4:30 p.m.

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.