In my last Strange Up Salem column in Salem Weekly about downtown parking, I asked a simple question, "Can we all get along?"
Great question, Rodney King. Police brutality isn’t the same as heated debates over how to handle downtown parking, but the unnecessary fighting over this issue also is bothersome.
At its last meeting the city council initiated the return of a 3-hour time limit even though discussion of downtown parking was billed as “informational” on the agenda, with no action expected.
Yet without advance notice a motion suddenly appeared and was quickly passed unanimously. This violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Oregon’s public meetings law, which requires “that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly.”
Also, Council President Chuck Bennett falsely claimed that in 2013 the council had to adopt a citizen initiative to ban downtown parking meters and do away with 2-hour limits.
Actually the city council didn’t have to adopt the initiative language after 9,000 people signed a petition. Initiative backers wanted citizens to vote on the proposal in the May 2014 election.
Instead, the council voted unanimously to implement it immediately, choosing on its own to institute free unlimited parking.
Now the council has flip-flopped, unanimously moving to impose 3-hour limits from October through January after 30 downtown businesspeople submitted a petition asking for parking time limits to be reinstated, along with other changes.
Battling via successive dueling petitions is no way to form a viable downtown parking policy. This bouncing back and forth is absurd: 2-hour limit…parking meters on the way… no parking meters; no limits… 3-hour limit.
All in less than a year.
Below is an email that Carole Smith, downtown business owner and resident, sent to Chuck Bennett, the city councilor who represents the downtown area. She led the initiative drive to ban parking meters downtown and do away with 2 hour limits.
Carole makes some excellent points about how the Salem City Council and a self-selected "parking group" have been trying to make changes in downtown parking policies in a sneaky and secretive way.
I respect your opinion Chuck. Most of your reasons why parking isn’t working downtown is because the City failed to make it work.
I am not so concerned about the 3 hour limits, but I am very concerned about how this decision was hidden from the downtown community, decided by a very small group, in a non-public manner. There are over 500 businesses downtown.
Can you tell me how many people made the decision to do what City Council wanted? What percentage of the 500 businesses were surveyed or invited to the Vu meetings? How many downtown customers, business and property owners were polled about their parking preferences? Did you have a majority vote of the full downtown community?
You say the 3 hour limits only goes until Feb -- are we moving on to meters then? Why didn’t the Vu parking group make 3 hour limits go through Valentines Day -- the second largest buying holiday after Christmas? Why did Councilor Clem have a pre-written motion ready for an INFORMATION ITEM (requiring no council action)? Why did the City Council undo everything in the 9,000 signature customer petition - except ONE item?
The item left out of council’s pre-written motion was how much the City can increase the parking tax annually. Do you know why that particular section was left out of the motion?
Because the City plans to vote in parking meters next year and eliminate the parking tax. So they didn’t need to eliminate that restriction. The fact is, the Vu group negotiated away all the ground gained with the initiative petition and okayed the City to start installing parking meters downtown -- and got nothing in return.
This kind of secret decision making, private meetings, and pandering to the City only creates divisiveness and distrust. If the city caused the current parking situation to fail, what makes you think the city won’t do the same with 3 hour parking?
The City doesn’t care about time limited parking -- they want meters. The Vu group just guaranteed the City will get parking meters at the expense of the downtown businesses and customers. How often does a city council throw away 9,000 signatures to follow what 32 businesses and employees want?