The troublesome parking situation at the VA Medical Center in La Jolla began to percolate about a decade ago; for a few reasons, it has now boiled over. Space remains finite. Most mornings, lines of employees’ and patients’ cars wind slowly up the hill from La Jolla Village Drive while drivers wait their turn to funnel into the lots. More than 6000 employees cannot park in the fewer than 3500 parking spaces.
Eddie, a third-floor nurse, told me, “I have to leave for work extra early from the South Bay or I don’t know about getting a space. And I can never leave work during the day for lunch or an appointment because, once I do — forget about ever getting another space.”
Patient parking is no better. The medical center’s patient population has grown over the past ten years, also making the fewer than 2000 designated patients’ spaces inadequate. For a 10 a.m. appointment this week, I knew to arrive by 9 a.m.; even still, when I arrived, drivers were already circling the lot. It seemed as though I was lucky enough to get what seemed the last available space.
Another issue is UCSD’s parking, which is available at a premium. Unwilling or unable to pay an annual parking fee of $732 or higher leads many UCSD students and staff to either look for spaces off campus or attempt to park on VA property, so the lots are guarded by security staff to ward off any scofflaws.
Medical center management is not blind to the situation; however, what they have been able to do only scratches at the problem. Most new employees are not provided with a parking permit. Another solution was to provide valet parking for patients; and another remedy was to compensate staff with bus passes.
Allison, a counselor, on many workdays finds it worthwhile to take a southbound express bus from home in Escondido to downtown San Diego, then another express bus back north to work in La Jolla instead of driving. Allison likes it that the bus ride is free and it saves her gas money plus miles on her car. She said any extra travel time spent on the bus is “much better than sitting in traffic backups. I really hate that. Plus, I get to read or use my phone.”
One creative management solution can be found in an unlikely parking lot four miles east of the medical center, on Miramar Road near Carroll Canyon Road. Employees and patients can leave their cars there and ride a free VA shuttle. Employees from North County areas have the option of taking the Coaster to Sorrento Valley, then a VA shuttle to work. Employees are also reimbursed for the Coaster fare as part of "Transit Benefits.”
A staff member who asked not to be named said the added benefit to using mass transit is that shuttle and train schedules don’t always coincide with work schedules, so some of the employees find the benefit of working reduced shifts by having to “conveniently” arrive late and leave early to make shuttle and train times. At least one other shuttle service also makes round trips from Mission Valley.
Future multilevel parking structures still remain on the medical center’s five-year plan; however, none are listed on the latest construction announcement. When and if a parking structure does see reality, the loss of hundreds of spaces will be experienced during construction.
Work is forecast to begin in February 2013 on a new administration building, situated within a current parking area; this will eliminate 100 or more spaces.