Tomorrow the Salem City Council meeting includes a public hearing agenda item dealing with downtown parking policies:
Watch out, Salem citizens! Beware! Blindly trust no city official!
This is the same Mayor, City Manager, City Council, and City staff who have brought you a string of poorly thought-out and poorly-implemented decisions. Including, but not limited to...
-- Cutting down five healthy beautiful trees in front of the downtown U.S. Bank building for no good reason.
-- Giving the go-ahead for an unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for $700 million Third Bridge that will do nothing to fix downtown traffic problems.
-- Allowing redevelopment of the downtown Boise Cascade property in a way that is utterly unlike the original mixed-use vision.
Now, this gang that can't shoot (sound policies) straight wants Salemites to believe that recommendations of a Downtown Parking Task Force which never involved downtown businesses or residents in its deliberations, and was solely focused on raising money to pay for dubious deficits in parking garage budgets, should move forward.
Hmmmm. If downtown parking meters were so necessary to vitalize downtown, wouldn't you think that downtown small businesses would be clamoring for them?
These business owners live and breathe downtown parking. They know what goes on parking-wise from morning till night, seven days a week. If downtown visitors were overwhelming the area, if the Historic District was over-filled with activity, if meters had to be installed to manage excessively high demand for parking spaces -- I think those business owners would know about it.
Instead, thousands of people have signed the Stop Parking Meters initiative petition. I see signs supporting the petition in windows and on countertops all over downtown.
This should be sending a strong message to the City of Salem: pause; reset; think again; you're on the wrong track.
Recently the Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program put out a Parking Made Easy: A Guide to Managing Parking in Your Community document. I haven't read it thoroughly, but after browsing through the document it looks to me like the City of Salem is making a lot of mistakes.
I can say this with more confidence than I would have a few months ago for this reason: after the City of Salem approved US Bank's request to cut down those five large, healthy, beautiful trees mentioned above, I've been investigating how this atrocious decision was made.
The City has been charging me for the public records requests I've been making. I think I'm up to a total of almost $450 now (I'm appealing the City's denial of my fee waiver requests, since they are in the public interest).
It's been money well spent. I've learned that as bad as the tree-removal decision looked to me at the outset, the more I learn about what went on behind the scenes, so to speak, it appears even worse.
Laws were ignored. Facts were ignored. Public involvement was ignored. So who wasn't ignored? Special interests and politicians.
Because the same thing seems to be happening with Third Bridge planning and the Downtown Parking Meters proposal, there's good reason to conclude that the City of Salem has some serious systemic problems. Somewhere along the line City officials appear to have forgotten that they are public servants.
Yes, I realize this might sound ridiculously old-fashioned, the notion that elected officials and government employees would put the general interest ahead of their own interests and special interests. Well, I'm cutting-edge in some regards, and old-fashioned in others.
It bothers me when people who citizens trust to lead them in the right direction don't do their job. Competent organizations always are concerned about whether they are treating their "customers" well. I like it when an airline, store, or online enterprise asks "How am I doing?"
I don't get a sense that the City of Salem cares about that question. My experience, and that of many others, is that City officials are a lot better at talking than listening, at dictating than receiving ideas, at pursuing a rigid strategy than flexibly adjusting to changing conditions.
So my advice is: watch out for what happens with the parking meter proposal.
At the City Council meeting tomorrow there will be a lot of warm, fuzzy assurances that nothing firm has been decided; we're just exploring options; we're open to fresh ideas. I wish I could believe City elected officials and staff.
But after learning how decisions are made at the City of Salem these days, I've got some very good reasons to be skeptical about reassuring words that are at odds with disturbing actions.