Tomorrow the Salem (Oregon) City Council will decide how to handle the stupendously successful citizen initiative petition that seeks to ban parking meters in the downtown area.
The people have spoken. For quite a few reasons, making people pay for onstreet downtown parking is a really bad idea. Stop Parking Meters Downtown explains why.
So let's have a vote in May 2014 on this issue. The City Council should choose that route, rather than putting the initiative into effect on its own. The staff report lays out the options open to the Council:
If Council elects to adopt the Initiative, the Initiative shall become law, effective on the date Council adopts it through resolution.
If Council elects to reject the Initiative, the Initiative shall be placed on the ballot at the next available election, which will be the May 2014 election.
Further, if Council rejects the Initiative, Council may refer a competing measure to the voters at the same election at which the initiated measure is submitted. If the council refers a competing measure to the voters, it must prepare the measure not later than the 30th day after the initiated measure is filed with Council.
A vote is needed so a clear, unforgettable message is sent to the City of Salem. I think it would be, Salem voters don't want parking meters downtown.
But, hey, if meters are such a great idea, let their proponents make a case for them. Maybe the voters would favor paying for onstreet parking downtown.
Have a vigorous, well-publicized debate over how making people pay for parking downtown would affect the many struggling small businesses in the area. Discuss the fairness of the City's recent action: more than doubling the parking tax on small businesses, while letting large retailers like Penneys off the hook with a much smaller percentage increase.
I'm worried that if the City Council adopts the initiative without a May 2014 vote, the Council could un-adopt the initiative in a year or two.
Sure, this would be a insult to the 9,000 people who signed the petition. But the Council would be much more worried about the political consequences of undoing the parking meter ban if voters in a citywide election had said, No meters downtown, no way, no, no, no.
Democracy is a wonderful thing.
Asking Salemians to vote on a downtown parking ban is a great idea. The petitioners, Patricia Moss, Stephen Perkins and Carole Smith, deserve this. As do the over 50 small business owners in downtown Salem who supported the initiative drive. And, of course, the 9,000 people who said, "let's vote on this."