Don't get me wrong. I prefer clean government to dirty government.
But if we're going to have scandals here in Salem, it'd be cool to have R- or X-rated House of Cards'ish ones, big elaborate devious mischievous goings-on led by Machiavellian politicians and their cohorts who are so clever, it takes an equally strong dose of investigative prowess to get even a clue into what's happening behind the scenes.
Instead, what's happening with the latest episode of the downtown parking saga is sleazy and disturbing, yet seemingly pretty damn obvious to discern.
Hence, this scandal is fittingly Salem. More So-lame than OMG! Nixonian.
This didn't stop me from calling my first blog post on this subject "Salem City Council pulls an OMG! downtown parking surprise." I described three OMG!'s.
OMG! The City Council passed a motion to move forward with 3 hour time limits and other parking policy changes after the agenda shared with citizens said the only discussion on this subject would be informational, no council action required.
OMG! It sure looks like some people did know the City Council was going to act on reinstating parking time limits, because they came all organized with recommendations that echoed the motion passed unanimously by councilors.
OMG! The parking group organized by Jim Vu (and Doug/Gayle Doty, I believe) excluded the leaders of the Stop Parking Meters Downtown initiative drive which, as noted above, gathered 9,000 signatures from Salem-area residents to stop the ill-considered meter plan being pushed by City officials.
Here's an update on what I've learned since.
(1) Leaders of the above-mentioned parking group have something to hide. Over a week ago I emailed Jim Vu and Dino Venti, who presented a petition to the City Council in support of 3-hour time limits and four other parking changes that purportedly reflected a consensus of downtown businesses.
I had several questions for them, including who put together the five recommendations, since the parking group never met to discuss or vote on them. Vu said he wouldn't be able to talk to me. Venti never responded at all.
So it looks like Vu and Venti, plus maybe the Doty's (who instigated the parking group), wrote up the recommendations that were presented to the City Council as if they came from a broad-based consensus of downtown business owners.
Far from it.
Only employees or owners of 28 separate businesses signed the petition. There are hundreds of businesses downtown, I believe. Over fifty backed the previous initiative petition to ban downtown parking meters and do away with the 2-hour limit.
Yet Vu and Venti were treated by city councilors and the Mayor as if they were emissaries from a marvelously cohesive new-found coalition of downtown businesses who had come together to speak with a single voice about parking policies.
(2) A consensus conclusion of the parking group wasn't emphasized in Vu and Venti's recommendations. I attended an August 11 meeting of the parking group that preceded the August 25 City Council meeting. As I said in this blog post, there was only one thing that everybody in the room agreed on that night:
Use a blend of "carrots" and "sticks" to keep employees (and ideally downtown residents also) out of onstreet parking, and in the parking garages.
This is crucial, because everyone agreed that currently the City of Salem isn't properly enforcing the ban against employees using onstreet parking while they are at work downtown. So many spaces which could be used by visitors are being sucked up by employees and the increasing number of downtown residents.
Thus it isn't possible to tell whether the current free unlimited parking policy is working when it hasn't even been implemented yet by City officials. Meaning, until employees are prevented from illegally using onstreet parking while at work, no one knows what sort of a parking problem downtown has, if any.
However, the five recommendations presented by Vu and Venti didn't stress the one thing everybody agreed on at the parking group meeting I was at. Here's the memo to the City Council, plus the names of those who signed the petition.
Download D Venti Testimony
For some reason one of the recommendations is a new ordinance that discourages employees from moving their car every three hours to take advantage of what is expected to be a 3-hour onstreet parking limit downtown.
But there already is a ban on this.
Why go from ban to discourage? Well, the "conspiracy theory" reason is that Vu and Venti are complicit in a scheme by City officials to rekindle their downtown parking meters fantasy as soon as possible.
Step one in this sleazy effort to overturn the Stop Parking Meters Downtown initiative language that was adopted by the City Council last year was the City's pathetic non-enforcement of the ban against employee parking.
This led to onstreet spaces being clogged by employees, which enabled the City to claim that free unlimited parking isn't working. Step two will be going to 3-hour parking, also with little enforcement on the ban against employee parking.
Without that enforcement, downtown visitors will continue to find it more difficult to find vacant onstreet spaces. Then City officials will proclaim, "We tried 2-hour parking; we tried unlimited parking; we tried 3-hour parking. Nothing worked. The only solution is... parking meters!"
(3) The City's State Street parking lot came in for some suspicious special attention at last week's City Council meeting. Under Oregon's public meetings law, the City Council is supposed to deliberate openly before making decisions. It doesn't.
It's obvious that motions and votes are scripted ahead of time, since the Mayor knows which councilor is ready to make a motion, and often votes on a important motion are unanimous, passing or failing with little or no discussion.
So just by watching the meeting it wasn't possible to tell why this part of Councilor Clem's seven-part surprise motion was included:
(2) Remove restrictions on the City’s ability to manage parking in the City-owned parking lot located at State Street, including the ability to install 30 minutes spaces, parking meters, and other parking management tools for that lot;
I often park in that lot. I was curious why Dan Clem included that language, so asked him. (I'm also curious why the councilor representing West Salem made the motion, rather than Chuck Bennett who represents downtown, but didn't ask Clem about this).
Clem replied that this was part of the 2013 Parking Task Force report, which also included a recommendation to install parking meters everywhere downtown -- thus setting off the Stop Parking Meters Downtown initiative effort.
What caught my eye about this portion of the motion is that Doug and Gayle Doty are remodeling the McGilchrist building on High and State. The State Street parking lot is adjacent to the building. Doug Doty had spoken at the parking group meeting I attended about how important it is for his tenants to have a high turnover of nearby parking spaces.
The Doty's initiated setting up the parking group.
Vu and Venti, leaders of the group, came up with five recommendations that, judging from their reception at the City Council meeting, fit into the City's long-term scheme to overturn the will of the 9,000 people who signed the Stop Parking Meters Downtown petition.
Thus it is easy to see the possibility of some "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" deal-making going on here. The Doty's hand-picked parking group comes up with recommendations that give City officials some political cover to reverse their 2013 implementation of the Stop Parking Meters Downtown initiative.
In return, a city councilor moves to change the State Street parking lot to mostly 30 minute and parking meter spaces, the only place in downtown where this is allowed. Now, I can't be sure this backroom deal-making actually occurred.
But it certainly could have, given the City Council's failure to abide by Oregon's public meeting law and discuss parking policy issues openly in full view of the citizenry.
Like I said, this isn't House of Cards-style sleaze. Just Salem's milder version, which is still objectionable.