Vancouver advances parking price caps

Proposed changes stir opposition, confusion, but also support

By Will Campbell, Columbian staff writer

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Proposed parking fee changes

• Raising the cap (or maximum amount the city council can charge) for meters in downtown Vancouver from $1.25 to $2.50 an hour.

• Raising the cap for parking permits from $100 to $200.

• Raising parking tickets from $15 to $25.

• Extend time to pay ticket to 30 days before fine doubles.

A set of proposed increases to parking price caps passed their first hurdle of public testimony Monday night and survived an attempt by two Vancouver city councilors to change the ordinance.

The ordinance has upset and confused many in the community, who are unsure if or when parking prices might go up. Others are upset with the ordinance because it will increase the price of parking tickets.

City Manager Eric Holmes said there are no current plans to raise meter and permit prices — only the caps.

Holmes said raised caps would benefit the crowded parking problem in downtown Vancouver for a couple of reasons. First, it allows for a tiered pricing system to increase the turnover of parking spaces downtown, clearing spots for visitors. Secondly, Holmes said, raising the price of parking permits would give more incentive for private parking structures to be built downtown. It would also generate revenue for the city to hire another sworn parking officer to better enforce parking laws, he added.

Council members Alishia Topper, Jack Burkman, Ty Stober and Anne McEnerny-Ogle supported the ordinance.

Public opinion

Dean Irvin, a former member of the Vancouver Parking Advisory committee, testified against the changes. Irvin said raising the meter cap will lead to more expensive parking, which will hurt downtown businesses because employees wouldn’t be able to afford parking. Irvin predicted that customers wouldn’t want to park in downtown with higher parking prices and that business owners will move out of downtown to avoid costs.

Irvin called on council members to wait until a report on parking can be completed. The report’s preliminary findings support the increases, but Irvin argued that it would be unreasonable to make decisions without the completed report. The report is being conducted by Dixon Resources Unlimited, costing the city more than $200,000.

“There are still a lot of problems out there in business, and people are trying the get through it, and they probably will, but this kind of increase is uncalled for without good information that you can bring back to us,” Irvin said.

Not all of downtown businesses are opposed to the increases. Steve Becker, director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, said that a lack of parking spots in the downtown hurts business, and doing nothing to the fees will only make that worse.

“The Vancouver’s Downtown Association believes it is prudent to adjust penalties and rates,” Becker said.

Susan Courtney testified against the parking ticket fines because she often is stuck in meetings downtown, unable to leave and feed the meter.

“The fines are fine where they are,” Courtney said. “I think it should be as friendly as possible for people to do business, to play and to live downtown.”

Courtney also said she misunderstood the ordinance language, which city counselors and Holmes spent time clarifying during the meeting.

Amendment fails

Two city councilors unsuccessfully attempted to amend the ordinance to require all rate increases, whether a nickel or a dollar, to come before city council.

City Councilor Bart Hansen proposed the amendment, saying he was uneasy with allowing the rates to be adjusted, within the cap, outside the council.

“We’re removing a level of accountability to the businesses of downtown,” Hansen said. “You only get so many opportunities as a business owner to have your voice heard in city hall with something that impacts you this much.”

Councilor Bill Turlay agreed with Hansen. Turlay said he’s not afraid of the extra paperwork that would come from bringing every rate increase before council because it would give the public more chances to communicate their thoughts on an individual basis.

But Holmes said that bringing every increase before council under the proposed parking pricing system would be a “headwind” for managing parking.

“It is more cumbersome and less predictable,” Holmes said.

Most city councilors agreed, and the amendment failed after a vote.

If the ordinance passes, Holmes would be able to raise the rates without public notice, but said he will put effort into alerting businesses of the increases.

The council voted to move the ordinance to its second and possible last public hearing on Monday. The council will vote on the ordinance then.