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Council discusses delaying extended paid parking downtown

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Four months after approving a controversial ordinance to extend paid parking hours in the downtown area, City Council will consider tomorrow whether to delay implementation of that plan in order to get more public feedback.


Co-sponsored by Council Members Laura Morrison (the only “no” vote on the extension plan back in March) and Kathie Tovo, the resolution would instruct the city manager to delay the extension of paid parking hours until Jan. 1, during which time staff would conduct a public input process with representatives of downtown businesses, bars, Capital Metro, nonprofit organizations, and others. The city manager would report back to Council with recommendations incorporating community concerns no later than November 1.


Meters currently shut off at 5:30pm across the city. Under the plan approved in March, people would have to pay for metered parking within the area bounded by Lady Bird Lake, I-35, 10th Street, and Lamar Boulevard from 8am until midnight Monday though Saturday. Sundays would remain free.


At Tuesday’s work session Council Member Mike Martinez acknowledged public concern over the extended hours but pushed for a compromise plan, citing the fiscal implications a delay could have on the city budget. City staff has estimated that the extended hours will bring in approximately $4.2 million in annual revenue. City Manager Marc Ott pointed out yesterday that the proposed FY2012 budget staff will be presenting to Council today anticipates that revenue. Plus, additional staff has already been hired and additional equipment has already been purchased.


Martinez’s compromise, which he said was reached by his and the mayor’s staff working with various stakeholders, would involve several amendments to the original ordinance. They include extending hours on only Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, requiring the city to provide an application for smart phones that would allow people to find off-street parking more conveniently, and requiring parking for volunteers at nonprofits, industry parking, and loading and off-loading stations for musicians.


City Attorney Karen Kennard said she didn’t think such amendments could be considered during Thursday’s discussion of the delaying resolution.


“The way the item is currently posted, I don’t believe it allows enough flexibility to amend the substantive provisions of the underlying ordinance,” Kennard said. “To have action on Thursday, with substantive amendments to the underlying ordinance, I think we’re going to need to repost that at a later date.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell responded that it might just be fortuitous that any amendments to the ordinance will have to be reposted, the better to encourage conversation to find a balance between citizens’ concerns and the fiscal needs of the city.


“I’m concerned about a potential loss of revenue,” Leffingwell said. “We’re talking about a dedicated source of revenue here that was going to improve streetscapes in downtown Austin as well as make a regular contribution to urban rail, should that ever come to pass.”


Leffingwell also said the city’s valet parking system needs to be addressed and improved, a sentiment shared by Morrison and Tovo. Tovo said that a more effective valet parking system could be an effective revenue source for the city, thereby “offsetting some of the costs that we might incur by delaying (extended metered parking hours) a bit.”


Currently the city charges $250 a year for a permit to reserve one space for valet parking.

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