I made this post's title a question. But it easily could have been a statement: City of Salem trying to screw up downtown parking, given the evidence to support this.
Today Carole Smith, a downtown business owner and resident, told it like she sees it in a Statesman Journal guest opinion. I'm going to share the entire piece so it will be available when the newspaper moves "Council insincere on parking" to its archives.
The parking petition mentioned by Smith was signed by about 9,000 people. It called for a ban on parking meters downtown and elimination of onstreet parking time limits.
When the Salem City Council adopted the downtown parking initiative petition in October, they had three options: place a competing measure on the ballot, reject the petition or adopt it.
If the City Council didn’t support the petition, they should have offered a competing measure. Their measure could have offered their solutions and let the citizens decide which measure they support. Instead, the City Council adopted the petition and pledged to “do everything in our power to make this work” and the mayor pledged to “reserve on-street parking for customers.” But even before they adopted it, they were already discussing how they planned to “change” it.
The petition’s sole purpose was to move the City Council off the fast track toward parking meters and re-align them with what the citizens want. The petition never pretended to provide the final and absolute solutions to all parking problems downtown.
When the City Council adopted the petition, they obligated the city to provide parking enforcement to prevent employees from parking on-street while at work.
We estimate employees are using almost 500 of the 1,200 on-street spaces daily. The city is undermining enforcement by continuing programs with a known history of failure. They want enforcement to fail so they can get back to time limits and meters as soon as possible.
We had successful employee enforcement for 30 years. We don’t need the city to develop a new program — just implement the old one that worked. For example, in the past, when the city had a $250 fine if businesses failed to submit employees names when the city requested them, more than 90 percent of businesses complied. Today the city requests employee lists without a fine and only 20 percent comply.
Successful enforcement is impossible without an accurate method to identify employees, but City Council refuses to reinstate the fine. Without proper enforcement, it is impossible to “reserve on-street parking for customers” as the mayor pledged.
To prove the citizens are wrong, the city is prepared to ruin the holiday shopping season for all the downtown businesses — and they plan to blame downtown businesses and the 9,000 people who signed the petition and dared to disagree with them.
One city councilor publicly reported, “free parking downtown will fail and council will have to make drastic changes after the first of the year.” Another city councilor called free, unlimited time parking “a real mess” and “a disaster.” Not inspiring descriptions of a program the City Council pledged to “do everything in (their) power” to make work.
If free downtown parking fails, it is simply because the City Council wanted it to fail. From the moment the City Council adopted the petition, they owned the successful program it could be — or the failure they create. We need to see leadership from our City Council now.
Councilors, prove to the voters you stand behind your pledge to “do everything in our power to make this work.” Stop blaming others and start putting your words into sincere action.
Carole Smith of Salem is a downtown business owner, property owner and resident. She can be reached at email@example.com.
I heartily agree that the Mayor, City Manager, and City Council now own the parking policy that was approved. Nobody forced the City Council to adopt the citizen petition.
As Smith says, if the City of Salem thought unlimited free onstreet parking in the downtown area was a bad idea, city officials should have allowed citizens to vote on the proposal in the May, 2014 election, as petition sponsors preferred.
Instead, it does indeed look like the Mayor and City Council wanted to implement the parking meter ban so they could undermine it as quickly as possible.
If this isn't the case, then why is the City of Salem doing such a crappy job of enforcing the longstanding ban on employees using onstreet parking spaces while at work? Here's two exchanges between Carole Smith and other people in the comments section of her opinion piece:
From what I read here, it seems unlimited free parking didn't work out so well during the holidays. It would be interesting to hear other points of view on the subject.
90% of our on-street parking spaces turned over every 90 minutes before we had time limits, and after time limits. There was NO change or advantage to 2 hour limiits. Customers who wanted to shop longer did not use the garages - they left downtown. After the first year 2 hour limits were in effect 1,300 fewer cars used the parking structuures. So, not only did our customers leave before they were done shopping - but our employees stopped paying to park in the garages and moved their cars onto the street.
The city used to write between 400-500 employee tickets annually, after 2 hour limits were implemented the city averaged 33 employee tickets annually. How much more proof do you need to see the city hasn't been serious about employee enforcement for the past 6 years.
We never needed 2 hour limits for our customers - the city implemented time limits so they could ticket our customers. We don't need that.
The only way I could see enforcement would be for parking patrol to have an Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) that quickly records plates and checks against a database. But that would cause privacy issues, I'm not sure if I would want my license plate recorded just because I went shopping or have coffee with a friend.
The city used to fine downtown businesses $250 if they did not give the city a list oi their employees names. 90% of businesses complied. Giving employee names is not a privacy issue - and it worked for 30 years. The city used to have a list of all employees and their license plate numbers. If a car is seen parked all day, several days a week, in the same location - the officers checked their data base to see if they were an employee, If they were, and if they were at work, they were issued a ticket. If it worked for 30 years, why wouldn't we go back there?
Great question. Why isn't the City of Salem doing everything it can to make a success of the downtown parking policy that the City Council approved?
People are tired of political game-playing by elected officials. Really tired. Just say what you mean, and do what you say. Don't vote for something you disapprove of, just because you want to be able to make it fail.
It sure seems like this is what happened with the Stop Parking Meters Downtown citizen petition. Aside from the lack of enforcement of the ban on employee onstreet parking while at work, the City of Salem has started to ticket downtown businesses that use 30 minute spaces to unload supplies.
Once again, it sounds like the motivation here is to punish the many businesses that supported the ban on downtown parking meters. Otherwise, why make such a marked change from a longstanding 30 minute parking space policy?
For 28 years, Jim Lind has used 30-minute parking spaces near his downtown shop to unload polished stones, crystals, beads, jewelry and other merchandise.
That changed in November when the parking patrol warned Lind that he risked getting a $100 ticket if he parked in a 30-minute zone, even for a minute. He was told the nearest legal spot for unloading products is an alley around the corner.
“If you’re carrying an 80-pound box of thundereggs, that is challenging,” said Lind, co-owner of Crystal Power & Light Co.
Downtown merchants are being told they can be ticketed for using 30-minute spots as loading zones, city officials confirmed. It’s an abrupt shift in policy.
Parking spaces in the Downtown Parking District are reserved for customer parking. Downtown employees using the spots during work hours can be cited. But the city’s stringent, new interpretation of a 36-year-old parking ordinance has surprised small business owners.
A commenter on the Statesman Journal story said in response to someone else:
Hay Jim - You're right. It is no coincidence that this problem came up AFTER Carol Smith circulated the petition that forced the City's hand. The City speaks with forked tongue. They tell everyone that they support a viable downtown and then they stab someone in the back like Jim Lind who is simply trying to run his business.
I'll end with an astounding fact: no one from the City of Salem, repeat, no one, ever has met with Carole Smith and the other folks who got 9,000 people to sign the petition banning downtown parking meters and doing away with two hour time limits.
The petition that the Salem City Council approved of.
I find this amazing.
A reasonable and competent City government would respect the will of the people. City officials would want to collaborate with leaders of the petition drive, especially since the City Council voted to approve the language of the petition.
To me this is additional evidence that the City of Salem doesn't really care what citizens want, and isn't interested in fostering a cooperative, collaborative relationship with the public that City officials have sworn to serve.
But, hey, a New Year starts in a few days. Fresh starts are possible. I sure hope the City chooses to work with downtown business owners and visitors, rather than against them.