VANCOUVER — Members of the Vancouver City Council advanced an ordinance Monday night that would affect parking in downtown Vancouver. The proposed ordinance would raise the caps for the maximum price per hour the city could charge for parking permits, as well as raising the cost of parking fines.
At the council meeting, councilors and citizens asked questions of city officials to clarify aspects of the proposed ordinance that caused confusion. Council Member Anne McEnerny-Ogle mentioned that citizens had been sending concerned emails reflecting confusion about parking fees, and that some feared that the ordinance would raise the fee rates.
Parking Program Manager Steve Kaspan and City Manager Eric Holmes both emphasized that the ordinance would not increase parking fee rates. Rather, it would increase the cap, or the maximum amount per hour, that the city could charge for parking.
Currently, the cap is set at $1.25, and the highest rate in Vancouver is currently at that cap. The proposed ordinance would increase the cap to $2.50. If the cap were raised, the city manager would have the authority to raise parking fees to any price up to $2.50 an hour.
Holmes said that downtown parking has seen increased demand due to business growth and development, and that giving the city manager the ability to adjust rates under a new cap would help facilitate better planning of new parking solutions.
“Part of the formula of figuring out how we can best do that,” said Holmes, “is having certainty in the ability to adjust rates in the future.”
Holmes clarified that if the ordinance was enacted, there were still no plans to increase hourly parking fees in the immediate future. However, Holmes said that the ordinance would increase the price of parking fines.
Citizen testimony revealed opposition to the proposed ordinance, but also some amount of support for the changes.
Dean Irvin, a former member of the Vancouver Parking Advisory committee, voiced concerns that the ordinance would be a burden on local wage earners and employers and said the change is “a pretty heavy thing for the retailers and employees to handle.”
The City of Vancouver commissioned a $200,000 survey by Dixon Resources Unlimited to study its parking situation, Irvin said, and noted that the survey was not yet completed. He urged the city council to wait until the survey was completed in October before making any decisions regarding changes to city parking ordinances.
“This kind of increase is uncalled for without good information you can bring to us,” Irvin said.
In a memo to Holmes dated Aug. 17, Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken indicated that “while the City may extend this contract to evaluate other aspects of the program (e.g. parking structure feasibility), the contract for this efficiency study is $86,340, not $200,000.
Susan Courtney expressed concern about the ordinance raising fines for parking violations. She said that some fines are unavoidable, citing times she was in meetings that went longer than her allotted time at a parking meter.
“We don’t need any more expensive fines,” Courtney said.
Steve Becker, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, testified in favor of the ordinance. He said that the parking in downtown Vancouver is scarce and often inconvenient. As the city grows, Becker said, the parking situation will become even more difficult.
Becker said that the Vancouver’s Downtown Association believes it is “prudent” to adjust fees, but that “fees are only a part of the strategy,” and that a long term solution needed to be found.
“Yes to a fee strategy, but yes to solving the painful parking problem before us,” Becker said.
In defense of the plan, Holmes said that the proposed ordinance would provide “a more nimble mechanism to be able to have the rates optimized to support the outcomes that we’re looking for in the system.”
According to Holmes, the city manager has previously been able to raise parking rates under the old cap. He also confirmed that even if the city manager raised rates, the city council still had the authority to reverse changes if they saw fit.
Council Member Bart Hansen was not in favor of the proposed ordinance, and said that “anytime anything has to do with a rate, it should come back to council.”
Hansen proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would require any proposed rate adjustment to be approved by the city council. Council Member Bill Turlay seconded the amendment.
Hansen said if the ordinance passed, “we’re removing a level of accountability to businesses downtown.”
Council Member Alishia Topper acknowledged that the current parking situation was a burden on wage earners, but that the only way to “provide ample parking and get away from that issue is by making changes like this.”
The council determined that Hansen’s proposed amendment would constitute a significant change to the ordinance and require a second first reading. The amendment was voted down by the council.
A vote on the original proposed ordinance moved it to a second public hearing on Mon., Aug. 21, at 7 p.m., at which time members of the council are expected to vote on the ordinance itself.