OLYMPIA - After a controversial split decision to defeat an ordinance that would charge to park in an area that now allows 90 minutes for free, the City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on the same ordinance - now with the backing of two council committees.
Both the council’s general government and finance committees recommend that the city adopt the $1-an-hour charge for 49 blocks downtown. The general government committee recommends that City Manager Steve Hall allow for an initial 15 minutes free at the stations, but it is just a recommendation.
“The ordinance gives the city manager the authority to set the rates,” city spokeswoman Cathie Butler said.
Hall said he doesn’t have a strong opinion about the 15-minutes-free option, but opposes 30 minutes free, which had been brought up. He said he will get direction from the council tonight before determining whether there will be free time.
Because the ordinance would require two readings, the pay zone couldn’t go into effect until sometime after June 22.
The apparent about-face isn’t the first time the council has changed course on parking. A previous incarnation of the council decided to spend about $650,000 on new pay stations. The city borrowed $725,000 to buy and install the pay stations, expecting to pay it back with proceeds from the meters. City staffers installed one on each of 49 block faces, expecting to start charging June 1.
But in a surprise 4-3 decision May 25, the council voted against pay parking, at least temporarily. Councilwoman Rhenda Strub asked that the item be further discussed by the council’s general government committee. She wanted an option for drivers to get some free parking time at the meters.
Strub and three other council members – Jeannine Roe, Craig Ottavelli and Karen Rogers – voted against the pay-parking plan. Voting for the plan were Stephen Buxbaum, new council member Steve Langer and Mayor Doug Mah.
The vote caused an uproar from downtown business owners, many of whom supported the free parking and had already prepared their customers for the change.
A report from the city staff opposes offering free time to customers because it would cut into projected parking revenue – the money needed to pay off the cost of the pay stations. The city estimated it could raise $358,182 to $452,250, based on charging $1 an hour at each station and 60 percent occupancy. A 2007 city study showed most people parked for an hour or less, so offering 30 minutes of free time would substantially cut into parking revenue.
Each week that pay parking is delayed results in $7,000 to $9,000 in lost revenue, according to a city staff report.
After reviewing that information, the city committees voted to back the pay parking model.
“I think that as a result of additional deliberation, council members realized that we’re facing a $725,000 debt so it isn’t appropriate to just … take no action and not follow through on the ordinance to turn on the meters,” Buxbaum said.
The finance committee unanimously recommended it; the committee includes only Buxbaum and Rogers. The general government committee voted 2-1 to recommend pay parking, but recommended a 15-minutes-free period. Councilman Ottavelli and Roe favored that; Buxbaum voted against. He favors pay parking without a free option.
The finance committee also recommended that the city manager extend free parking for the rest of the year for downtown employees at a city parking lot at State Avenue and Franklin Street. The general government committee recommended tracking the results of the pay program and reconsidering it a year after implementation.