The Olympia City Council approved a parking ordinance Tuesday that some people say will hamper services for the homeless.
The new law will require a permit for non-parking functions at city-owned parking lots. The proposal passed 4-1, with Councilwoman Karen Rogers voting no. Councilmembers Jeannine Roe and Steve Langer were absent.
Dozens of supporters of a local ministry that uses one of those lots protested outside City Hall before the council meeting, and also addressed the council during public comment.
On Thursdays and Saturdays, Crazy Faith Ministries feeds hundreds of homeless people in an empty parking lot at State Avenue and Washington Street near the Olympia Transit Center. Supporters say Crazy Faith should be free to peacefully assemble on public land as a constitutional right.
“I don’t feel the process is fair,” Ben Charles, executive director of Crazy Faith, told The Olympian, noting that the only way he will stop feeding the homeless at the State Avenue parking lot is “when they arrest us.”
The city ordinance stems from complaints by downtown business owners as well as concerns for pedestrian safety. City Manager Steve Hall said the city has identified alternative properties for Crazy Faith’s meals. Hall said he wants to hold a forum that allows all affected parties to discuss the issue.
Rogers, the lone dissenter on the council, commended Crazy Faith volunteers for complying with requests to clean up after themselves and reduce jaywalking. She bemoaned the addition of more regulation.
“There has to be rules, but like my aunt says, there also has to be grace,” she said.
The ordinance will take effect five days after the city publishes the law as a legal notice this week. City officials have yet to decide what kind of permit they will require, but the possibilities mentioned so far range in cost from $50 to $187.
Under the law, those who use city-owned parking lots without a permit could face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail. A more likely scenario would be a $50 ticket, said Darren Nienaber, deputy city attorney.
John Forespring, who owns a State Farm agency on Harrison Avenue, criticized the potential fines and said better communication is needed.
“There are parking lots that sit empty for hours and hours after 5 p.m.,” he said. “Let’s do what’s right.”
The ordinance includes an annual registration fee of $10 for all cars in the residential parking program that regulates parking in eight designated zones. Parking has been free for the first vehicle, and $10 for each additional vehicle for residents who live in the zones. The new fee begins in January 2015.