Homeowners near WSUV want to reclaim ability to park on street

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Fall term starts Aug. 22 at WSU Vancouver and, if a trend continues, students who don’t want to pay to park on campus will seek spots on nearby public streets.

Last year, county commissioners responded to neighborhood complaints by prohibiting daytime parking on some residential streets west of the campus.

The parking ban appeared to work, but Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke, whose district includes Salmon Creek, wanted to find a way to let residents park in front of their homes.

He said he’s received several requests from residents adamant that they need to park on the street.

While the 90 homes affected by the parking ban have driveways and garages, Mielke said families with teenagers who own cars, for example, need the extra space.

Mielke said residents could choose not to participate in a residential parking permit program, but he would like to offer permits priced at $50 or less. He suggested making people pay for permits because staff research had showed there would be administrative costs. Mielke has brought the topic up nearly every week when he meets with the other commissioners and Administrator Bill Barron.

Last week, Mark McCauley, the director of general services, came up with a short-term option: mail free parking permits to the residents who live in the no-parking zone and change the street signs to reflect that residential permits are required.

“We think this is the most reasonable approach,” McCauley said.

Administrative costs

The seemingly simple concept has taken months to develop.

First, the question of whether the county could establish a residential parking zone, which was raised last year, was answered: Yes.

Steve Schulte, transportation manager for Clark County Public Works, consulted other cities with college campuses, including Bellingham, Ellensburg, Seattle and Pullman, and learned each location does have a residential parking permit program in which local residents obtain parking permits to park on the street.

The areas are typically called Residential Parking Zones, or RPZs.

The city of Vancouver issues parking permits to residents who live downtown, but a RPZ would be a first for unincorporated Clark County. And it would come with administrative requirements, Schulte wrote in a report given to county commissioners July 11.

“Most jurisdictions commented about the large amount of administrative support required to first implement, and then administer the RPZs,” Schulte wrote. “Initially, there are studies required to identify both the funding source for the work and the extent of the initial geographic area for the RPZs. Additionally, a customer service location for call taking and permit administration/distribution needs to be identified, staffed and funded.”

He said the municipal employees he interviewed said the county would have to maintain a database of residents with parking permits, resolve disputes and process petitions that will inevitably be filed by residents on neighboring streets who want to expand the RPZ.

Schulte said estimated operating costs were $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

“In some jurisdictions, fees were charged to the residents to pay for all of some of the costs of programs,” Schulte wrote. “These fees ranged from $0 to $65 a year.”

If the county doesn’t charge residents for the parking permits, the money would come from the county’s general fund. Commissioners recently learned that the general fund is on track to be nearly $4 million short by the end of 2012, so they are already looking at having to make cuts, not additions.

McCauley said last week that, under his proposal, which was still being reviewed by a county deputy prosecutor, administrative costs would be minimized. For example, the county would not accept petitions from residents who want to expand the RPZ.

Even if the county keeps costs down, there’s a potential problem of a lack of enforcement.

Schulte, in his July 11 report, said the cities with RPZs next to college campuses all emphasized that the need for enforcement.

“Without active patrolling and frequent citation writing, resident-only parking would not be respected,” he wrote.

He attached an email from Mike Evans, chief criminal deputy of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Evans wrote that officers have to prioritize calls and reports of parking violations, unless the offending vehicle represents a serious safety concern, are a low priority.

Evans also shot down the idea that somebody else could patrol the streets.

“It was mentioned that one idea was for WSUV police or citizens patrolling the no-parking area,” Evans wrote. “Enforcing county code and state traffic laws on county roadways is work performed by the members of the Deputy Sheriff Guild. A memorandum of understanding would have to be negotiated, and entered into, between Clark County and the Deputy Sheriff Guild in order for others to perform this work. We have such an agreement with the Deputy Sheriff Guild that addresses handicap parking violations only. It is unlikely that the Deputy Sheriff Guild will agree to others performing this work.”

Evans continued, “In short, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office will enforce no parking zones in and around WSUV, as time and resources permit. Because of severe limitations to those resources, and high demand for service on higher priority activities, such enforcement will likely be limited and sporadic at best.”

Evans wrote the email to Sheriff Garry Lucas and Undersheriff Joe Dunegan; Dunegan forwarded the email to Schulte as the official response from the sheriff’s office.

Mielke said Aug. 10 he did not think enforcement would be necessary because he thinks students will obey permit-only signs.

Unforeseen issues

McCauley’s office issues permits for employees for the parking garage at the Clark County Public Service Center, so the county does have the ability to make plastic parking tags for people to hang on their rearview mirror.

Whatever commissioners decide, it won’t please everyone.

Mielke said he did not remember the names of people he’s talked with who want to park on the streets.

Staff members have discussed the possibility that a simple solution might lead to other problems, such as residents turning around and selling passes to students.

Debbie Garlington, who testified at a 2010 public hearing, said she suggested that commissioners consider resident-only parking but she’s wary of the costs.

“We are supportive of the current parking rules, and the students do seem to abide by them,” she wrote in an email.

“However, it has become quite annoying juggling vehicles back and forth most days,” she wrote.

Three other people who testified at the 2010 hearing said the current ban works.

Robin Shirron wrote in an email that she and her husband, “LOVE the no parking and have had no trouble. We have our peaceful neighborhood back. Any changes would open up can of worms. No changes wanted here,” she wrote.

Margie Montfort said she, too, believes opening the streets back up to parking will be an invitation to students once they figure out there will be little or no enforcement.

Resident Roger Erickson wrote in an email, after being told about the proposed changes, “All this after having made a decision here that works? Are they actually considering changing it? Ridiculous!! They considered all these questions the first time around and arrived at the decision to restrict parking as it is now because it is the easiest to manage and it works well.”

The current no-parking zone applies to Northeast 147th, 148th and 150th streets between Northeast 26th and 29th avenues, and Northeast 26th Avenue between 147th and 148th streets.

The zone was established after the county asked for feedback from residents and heard from some people who said they would put up with student parking in order to be able to park on the street.

WSU Vancouver charges up to $243.39 for an annual parking pass in its lots; rates vary according to lot, according to the school’s website. The least expensive annual permit costs $136.61.

Daily fees for school lots are $2 or $3.

Clark County spent approximately $3,800 to install 47 signs to let people know that street parking was prohibited from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.

The current restrictions are similar to what the county established near Skyview and Columbia River high schools.

Violators can be issued a $38 ticket.