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Council shortens paid parking hours but leaves northern boundary

Friday, August 19, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

City Council voted Thursday to amend a controversial extension of paid parking hours downtown. The new guidelines, which are slated to go into effect Sept. 6, will limit the number of hours paid parking will be in effect on certain days of the week. However, the ordinance will not change the geographic boundaries of the affected area, as some – including Council Member Mike Martinez – had hoped it would.


Currently, paid parking downtown runs from 8am-5:30pm, Monday through Friday. Parking is free on weekends. Under the terms of the original paid parking extension ordinance, which passed in early March, paid parking time limits in the area would have been in effect from 8am to midnight, Monday through Saturday. Sundays would have remained free.


In response to stakeholder concerns about the new ordinance, Martinez and Mayor Lee Leffingwell presented a “compromise” ordinance that would have limited the days with those extended hours to Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the meters would shut off at 6pm (to correspond to a system-wide 30-minute extension agreed upon in the original resolution). In addition, their resolution called for moving the northern boundary of the affected downtown area two blocks south, from Tenth Street to Eighth Street. That would have put all but one of the churches in the area outside of that boundary.


But Council Member Bill Spelman told his colleagues that decreasing the area affected by the extended hours would only create more traffic and longer wait times for parking spots. “It seems to me if we’ve got a couple of streets that are free and a whole bunch streets that are not, we’re going to have a whole lot of traffic on those streets that are free,” he said.


So Spelman offered an amendment to keep the limited hours but move the northern boundary of the area back to Tenth Street.


Martinez objected to Spelman’s amendment on the grounds that it ignored the input of downtown stakeholders.


“The amendment discourages people moving forward, from coming forward and realistically sitting at the table and coming to an agreed compromise,” said Martinez. “We had brought support for this compromise from venue owners to restaurant owners to musicians to churches to citizens, many of whom were opposed altogether when we brought them to the table and asked them to have honest conversations with us.


“It’s going to be difficult next time to convince them that we’re listening. … We tried to achieve consensus, and we did achieve consensus, and now we’re ignoring that.”


Despite Martinez’s reservations, the Spelman amendment passed 4-3, with Martinez, Laura Morrison, and Kathie Tovo voting against. Council then voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution, with Morrison the only nay vote.


Morrison, who was also the only Council member to vote against the original ordinance back in March, had told her colleagues at their work session Tuesday that she was happy with the compromise resolution and that she would show her support for it by withdrawing on Thursday a resolution she sponsored delaying implementation of the original ordinance until Jan 1, 2012, In the interim, the city manager would have conducted a public input process.


However, with Spelman’s amendment now a part of the compromise ordinance, Morrison dropped her plan to withdraw and instead made a motion to approve delaying implementation of the plan. This brought cheers from the audience, many of whom had spoken out earlier against extending paid parking hours.


But Morrison’s motion seemed to confuse both Council members and city lawyers, who weren’t sure about the legality of voting on a resolution that would delay implementation of another resolution that had just been approved.


Realizing that “from a pragmatic standpoint it probably wouldn’t pass even if it was valid,” Morrison decided to withdraw the resolution.


The amended ordinance directs the city manager to report back to Council in March 2012 on parking meter occupancy rates and the economic effects of the program.

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