City council, public to talk downtown parking fee caps

Citizen input welcome at hearing Monday to discuss increasing permit, meter fee limits

By Will Campbell, Columbian staff writer

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A proposal to raise the caps on parking fees in downtown Vancouver will get its first public hearing Monday.

The city council will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. to get citizen input on a plan to increase the caps on parking permits and meter fees, as well as the cost of parking citations.

The proposal got the attention of some residents who came to a workshop a week ago to share their concern, but the council did not take public testimony at the meeting.

One of those citizens, Jennifer Denton, came to the workshop to speak out against the increases. Denton lives in the Vancouvercenter apartment building bordering Esther Short Park, a complex holding 112 units. She said people in her complex are concerned with the additional hikes after the city already raised the rates in March.

“Parking is such a big issue for the residents,” Denton said.

But it’s an issue for the city, too. Revenues from the increases would help to hire a new position to better enforce parking in downtown.

A study by the city has found the cost of citations is relatively low, compared to similar cities, so hourly parking and citations have caused drivers in downtown to flout the rules.

One city hall report stated that the difference between all-day parking and a ticket is only $2.50, and too many people take that risk — and succeed. “It could be argued that the $15 fine also favors noncompliance for people parking 20 minutes or less. The thinking would be, ‘What are the chances of an officer coming by in such a short time?’ Even if they do get caught, a $15 ticket will not bother most people,” according to the report.

The Columbian found in May that drivers owed a total of $237,000 in unpaid parking tickets.

Denton said many fixed-income residents have already calculated their budgets with the parking permit increases, and now some are considering getting rid of a car.

The parking permit fee cap increase would allow the city manager to raise parking permits to $200 per space per month.

“They want to put a ceiling on it, and they say, ‘We’re not going to raise that right now,’ but that could inch up, and the next thing you know, they’re there,” Denton said. “That’s how the Postal Service raised the stamps prices.”

The city is also proposing to raise the parking meter caps to $2.50 an hour, up from $1.25. The rates also increased from 50 cents an hour in March.

Denton thinks the increases will drive business out of Vancouver because people won’t pay that much for a spot.

The city has been replacing old coin-operated parking meters in downtown, which give a free 20 minutes to drivers parking. The new solar-powered meters have the advantage of accepting credit cards, but the free minutes are going away.

Denton loved the free 20-minute feature on Vancouver’s meters when she moved here, but the parking cap increase is another way Vancouver is changing for the worse, she said.

“Vancouver has got to retain that small town charm.”