OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council will consider tonight whether to create a 25-foot no-panhandling zone around ATMs and parking pay stations.
The council could vote on first reading to amend the city’s Pedestrian Interference Ordinance, a controversial law adopted in 2006 that prohibits sitting and lying on portions of sidewalks during certain hours. A second and final vote would be required to pass the new rules.
The council will hold its first meeting at the new City Hall – 601 Fourth Ave. E. – at 7 p.m. The item is on the council’s consent agenda – a list of miscellaneous items that are typically not controversial and not discussed during meetings. But Mayor Doug Mah said the item could be pulled for discussion.
He said he favors the proposal.
“I think it’s something that we should try to see if it makes a difference,” he said. If not, the city can always repeal it, he said.
Ruthie Snyder, the city’s downtown code enforcement officer, said residents and merchants have complained about aggressive panhandling near pay stations since the city started using them in July.
The pay stations charge $1 an hour, and spaces may be used for up to two hours. But unlike traditional coin meters, there is only one pay station per block. That means that people must walk to the nearest machine, pay with coins or cards and print a receipt. They then have to return to their car and place the receipt on the dashboard.
All that takes time and allows panhandlers an opportunity. Snyder said people have been blocking the pay stations, “sitting in front right against the pay stations when people were trying to walk up.”
The council’s land-use committee has studied the issue and settled on the 25-foot buffer because it’s similar to what other cities have on the books, said Councilwoman Jeannine Roe. “I actually was encouraging 30 (feet), but we narrowed it to 25.”
The committee recommended the full council approve the new regulations.
Snyder said other cities have similar restrictions around ATMs, so that was included in the proposal. She said she hasn’t received any negative feedback about the proposal, including from the social services community.
About 50 pay stations were installed around downtown Olympia last spring in an area that formerly allowed 90 minutes of free parking. The city’s rationale was that a study showed downtown employees were tying up the spots – parking there and moving every 90 minutes to avoid tickets.
The move to pay parking was controversial, and the council’s finance committee will study the performance of the parking program at a meeting at 5 p.m. in City Hall, Room 207. The city borrowed $725,000 to buy and install the pay stations, and it expected to pay $810,000 over three years, including interest, to pay back the loan with proceeds from the pay stations.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869