Although statistics only cover slightly more than three months, there is sufficient cause for concern that removing parking fees at six county parks has prompted increases in vandalism, littering and other misconduct at those parks.
County commissioners — particularly David Madore, who earlier this year fulfilled a campaign promise to remove the parking fees — must solve this problem early, before it gets worse. And paying for that solution will be difficult, because removing the parking fees also cut $325,000 annually from the county's general fund. Our community's high quality of life is too dependent on parks for commissioners to allow this problem to fester.
Madore appears to be either unaware of or unperturbed by the statistics, dismissing a reporter's recent inquiries about the problem with the contention that his research revealed no increase in complaints. But Sheriff's Office Chief Mike Evans offers a different perspective, noting that "it's a pretty simple question to answer. We didn't have these problems when there were (parking fees) and we do after (the fees were removed). When the fees went away, these problems showed up."
From April 3 through July 10, there were 159 service calls to the sheriff's department from the six local parks that previously had parking fees. For the same period last year, according to a Monday Columbian story by Erik Hidle, that number was 133. In 2011, it was 86.
A more complete picture won't be known until a longer period is examined. In fact, while there was a large increase in calls at Vancouver Lake Park, a decline in calls to the sheriff's office was seen at Salmon Creek/Klineline Pond.
Hal Bauder, lead maintenance official at Lewisville Regional Park, wrote in an July 1 email to Public Works Director Pete Capell: "We are seeing more speeding (garbage and) litter, off-leash (problems and) graffiti. Not used to seeing tagging out here. When my people leave for home, seems to become a free-for-all."
And Hidle also reported this quote from county crime analyst Brian Salsig about calls to the Sheriff's Office from the six parks: "It's the most we've had, and the fact is, the numbers are trending upward, so that's a concern."
But is it a concern to Madore? "Many citizens have called to express their appreciation that we've restored the free use of our beautiful parks," he wrote in an email. Which further illustrates a point we made in an April 4 editorial, that Madore's description of this issue is highly disingenuous. Madore has not "restored the free use of our beautiful parks." Admission to all 83 parks in the county outside of Vancouver city limits is free and always has been. What Madore has done is remove parking fees at six of those parks.
Our challenge to Madore is threefold: Recognize the problem. Present a convincing solution. And stop misrepresenting the fulfillment of a campaign promise as some stunning sea change at all local parks. Madore owns this reform. He should either exercise his ownership rights, or restore the user-pays concept that kept our parks beautiful for so many years.