OLYMPIA - The ongoing tug-of-war between state government and the historic South Capitol neighborhood took an unusual turn Friday.
Less than three weeks after the Olympia City Council bumped up overtime parking fines to as much as $110 a day in the South Capitol neighborhood, Republican Sen. Jerome Delvin of Richland introduced a bill to keep the city from limiting parking near the Capitol Campus to anything less than four hours.
Delvin, a 17-year veteran of the Legislature, called his Senate Bill 5830 “a shot across their bow” for the neighborhood.
“When I first came here, it seemed to work pretty well around here. You had four- or three-hour parking minimums. That’s all I’m asking for – to have at least a four-hour minimum so people can park and go to committee hearings,” Delvin said, noting that his 10 co-sponsors included Democrats and Republicans concerned about the problem for visitors.
Monday is the deadline for passing bills out of committee, so Senate Bill 5830 doesn’t stand much chance, said Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County. Fraser carries clout as the Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman and is a veteran in mediating among the city, state and neighborhood.
But the bill sure touches a nerve.
“It’s quite a big surprise,” Fraser said. “If this were to pass, it would basically destroy the residential and historical nature of the South Capitol neighborhood. I think the (parking) issue is being handled well by (the Department of General Administration), the city and the neighborhood. This would just undermine everybody’s working relationship.”
As written, SB 5830 would let the city limit parking to no less than four hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, opening up the one-hour parking zones around the Capitol for the longer stays. The four-hour zone would extend 500 yards from eight large buildings on the campus – in all directions.
Butler estimated Delvin’s zone would stretch more than four blocks south to 20th Avenue and the Frog Pond grocery, and more than two blocks north as far as Eighth or Ninth Avenue.
This would hurt the city’s ability to preserve the character of the South Capitol neighborhood and interfere with businesses north of the Capitol that have street parking meant to help customers, Butler said.
The South Capitol Neighborhood Association has fought many battles over the years over state encroachment – targeting placement of portable buildings on campus, parking issues, lobbyist use of homes for businesses, and large projects such as the new Data Center east of the campus.
The association also has worked with the state and city to limit state parking overflow into the historic residential areas.
Jeanne Marie Thomas, the president of the neighborhood group, said South Capitol is “a nationally recognized historic district. Part of the reason for the recognition is the charming residential and historic nature of the entire district.”
“It is the role of local government to protect and preserve historic districts through their local land-use planning. It is acknowledged as such by the State of Washington,” Thomas said, adding that she doesn’t want to fight. “I just want to educate.”
Despite efforts to limit overtime parking in the neighborhood, the city wrote 1,399 overtime parking tickets during last year’s 60-day legislative session. The City Council followed that up last year by authorizing parking enforcers to write more than two tickets per day for violators who leave vehicles for long periods.
Then, on Jan. 18, the council voted unanimously to enact higher fines that took effect Feb. 1. The daily maximum fine went from $45 to $110 for prolonged infractions – or what the city calls “chain parking.” The highest fine applies to those parking for a fifth hour in a one-hour zone, and Butler said it’s too early to say what effect that is having.
But she did say parking and access to the Capitol Campus for visitors is first among the city’s six legislative priorities this year – and it wants to put into practice the recommendations from a 2009 state parking study by General Administration.
GA spokesman Jim Erskine said the agency has been trying for years to address parking issues. More recently, it opened up a small lot east of the Natural Resources Building on the East Campus after the state bought the Professional Arts building. It also put up new signs to direct travelers to the campus and has opened other space on campus by requiring tour buses to park along Deschutes Parkway after delivering passengers at the Capitol.
Erskine conceded that those steps and others might not make up for all the parking spots lost with construction of the new Data Center east of the Capitol.
And Delvin conceded that his bill is symbolic and that he hopes it can start a discussion – even in a committee work session.
“The parking around here is confusing. And (constituents) end up coming here to lobby and meet with their Legislature and getting a ticket,” he said.
“I understand the neighborhood” concerns, Delvin added. But he compared Capitol Campus neighbors to people who “buy a house near the airport and then complain about the airport. They live in the Capitol area. It’s important that people have access to their legislators and not have to worry about going through a parking maze and then pay for a ticket.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog