Here's a terrific letter that Carole Smith, one of the leaders of Salem's highly successful Stop Parking Meters Downtown movement, has sent to the City Council.
The Council meets tomorrow, Monday, October 14, to decide whether the Stop Parking Meters citizen initiative petition should (1) be placed on the May 2014 ballot, where it likely would pass, (2) implement the initiative petition provisions immediately via changes to City ordinances, or (3) submit a competing ballot initiative for citizens to vote on.
A City staff report lays out the supposed fiscal implications. It also reports the results of a survey of downtown businesses about how they'd like to see parking handled during the upcoming holiday season. The highest percentage, 43%, wanted no limits at all. The next highest, 42%, wanted four hour limits. And this was during the holiday season, when likely more people visit downtown than any other time.
So it sure looks like the citizen initiative reflects what downtown businessses want: no parking meters, and no time limits for onstreet parking. Read on for Carole Smith's cogent advice to the City Council about how they should handle the initiative petition. (I fixed a few typos.)
Dear City Council,
We understand you may vote to adopt the No Parking Meters petition Monday night. If you deny the citizens an opportunity to vote, please publicly pledge to respect the petition as if it were a mandate voted in by the people. Publicly pledge not to change the intent or language of the petition, or undermine the petition by providing inadequate parking enforcement.
EXAMPLES OF THE CITY UNDERMINING DOWNTOWN PARKING IN THE PAST:
In 2003 the City wrote 476 tickets to employees who were caught parking on-street while at work. After 2 hour limits were implemented, that number dropped to 33 tickets a year. That's not enforcement. That is undermining what the citizens want.
In 2012, downtown complained the City was not sending letters to downtown employers requiring them to list their employees (for enforcement), the City sent the letters out but deleted any mention of the $250 fine for not providing the information to the City. The result was, only 40% of businesses responded. That's not enforcement. That is undermining what the citizens want.
In 2013 downtown complained the city was not ticketing employees for parking on-street. Enforcement officers began leaving $100 tickets on windshields of suspected employee vehicles - even though the enforcement officers knew these tickets would be thrown out by the court. This is not enforcement. That is undermining what the citizens want.
WAYS TO INCREASE REVENUE THE PARKING TASK WAS NOT ALLOWED TO DISCUSS:
Dedicate all income/expenses from the three downtown garages into a fiscally conservative management and maintenance fund dedicated to benefit the downtown garages. If you continue separating the Leasehold income/expenses from the Parking District income/expenses the garages will never be self sufficient.
If the garages are still not self sufficient, allow the private sector an opportunity to better align expenses with income. Or better yet, treat the downtown garages like all other city owned property and put garage expenses/income in the general fund. It is unreasonable and unfair to expect downtown to pay the costs of these city-owned assets when all other city-owned asset costs are paid by all the taxpayers in Salem. The process you have now only values the city needs, and prohibits an open citizen-oriented solution process. This process is NOT working.
If the parking garages still not self sufficient, charge a maximum of $1 a day for anyone who uses the garage. Your own Parking Manager suggested this program to increase the City's income by $500,000 a year, and to provide an incentive for part-time, minimum wage employees to stop parking on-street. This plan has never been considered, taken seriously, or studied. It solves two pressing problems downtown - it increases the income to the garages AND provides inexpensive parking for employees.
Each employee who moves into the garage frees up parking for customers who may choose not to park in the garage. Let Penneys, Nordstom and Kohls validate parking. Employees want to park in the garages but cannot afford it, customers want to park on-street but its full of employees. The process you have now only values the City's needs, and prohibits an open citizen-oriented solution process. This process is NOT working.
Charge a comparable parking tax to Riverfront and Conference Center events, and downtown City offices. Currently they do not pay the tax, but create a large parking demand. Downtown businesses should not have to subsidize Riverfront and Conference Center events and city offices. The process you have now only values the City needs, and prohibits an open citizen-oriented solution process. This process is NOT working.
WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, FIX THE PROBLEMS YOU CREATED:
Vote to rescind the 100% parking tax increase you approved in June on our smallest, most vulnerable businesses. That was mean and unwarranted. It did not turn the downtown businesses against our petition as you planned. Undo that bad deed. Shame on you. Start representing the citizens who elected you.
Vote to rescind your Feb vote to change the language of SRC Chapter 44 which allowed the City to take our downtown organization's funds away. We want an open nomination process, and openly elected board representing us. We want less control and interference from city staff - like the successful Oregon downtowns have.
You used the Salem Downtown Partnership to trick property owners into renewing the EID tax in 2011, then allowed the City to take the funds. No survey to see if downtown was unhappy, no warning, no valid reasons given. You just allowed the City to take control of the special tax we pay to fund our downtown organization.
Now we have less people participating in First Wednesday, under-watered and unhealthy hanging baskets again, no innovative programs, no public meeting notices or minutes, ugly banners, no organized political representation, and no openly nominated and elected downtown board representing us. We expect all our desks, chairs, tables, computers, computer programs, filing cabinets, audience response system, power washing equipment, paper cutters, carpet squares, etc will be returned to us. This process only values the City's needs, and prohibits an open citizen-oriented solution process. This process is NOT working.
The Parking Tax was created in 1976. There were no parking garages until several years later. When staff insists the parking tax is insufficient to pay for parking garage maintenance and management - stop them. The tax was not voted in to pay those costs. SRC Chapter 7 created a tax on downtown businesses to replace the small income the city had when downtown parking meters were removed, and provides funding for our downtown organization. That is all.
TURNED OUT - THE PETITION WASN'T ABOUT PARKING AFTER ALL:
You should consider the signatures on our petition to be 9,000 votes against your current policies. By denying a pubic vote on this petition you will never have to face how many citizens really disagree with you. You are under the misconception people signed our petition because they do not want to pay for downtown parking.
In talking with thousands of citizens we found some people were concerned about paid parking, but mostly we found very high dissatisfaction with your voting record, lack of respect for public opinion or input, and lack of concern for the health of our downtown and our community. It started out being about parking, but ended up being more about you.