VANCOUVER — Members of the Vancouver City Council voted on Monday to approve an ordinance that alters the city parking code, raising the maximum hourly rate that can be charged at meters and increasing fines for parking violations.
The new ordinance will increase the maximum hourly rate, or cap, that the city manager can charge for parking from $1.25 per hour to $2.50 per hour.
Monday’s council meeting was the second reading of the ordinance, and members of Vancouver’s parking staff were present to clarify concerns raised at last week’s meeting.
Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken said that the parking program costs must be paid by fees from users, rather than being funded by taxpayer dollars. He also addressed fines for parking violations, and said they are not intended to raise revenue, but rather encourage people to pay for parking spaces and “observe maximum time limits.”
Eiken also addressed concerns regarding giving the city manager the authority to adjust parking rates under a specific cap. He said this authority is not new, with Vancouver city managers being able to do so since 1999.
Both citizen testimony and council member discussion at the previous meeting referenced a study conducted by Dixon Resources Unlimited that raised concerns due to its cost and unavailability to the public. In a memo dated Aug. 17, 2017, Eiken addressed these concerns.
At the previous city council meeting, citizen testimony had incorrectly stated the survey’s cost as being $200,000. The memo said the survey cost $86,000. Eiken also said that it was a total cost of ownership study for Vancouver’s parking system, and that its purpose was to find areas of improvement in the parking system and propose ways to solve those issues.
Eiken said that the study did not have significant references to adjusting rates or fees. He also said that the study will become available to the public in the future.
According to Eiken, the last time the caps for parking were raised was in 1999.
Parking Program Manager Steve Kaspan outlined several issues that face the current Vancouver parking system. First, current fines are not in proportion to parking rates. Next, the city needs rates that will support development for both public and private parking.
Kaspan said that the last increase in parking rates raised the rate to its cap, meaning that any further increases must go before the city council for approval. Finally, Kaspan said that the areas for parking enforcement have recently expanded, but the staff to cover those areas has not.
Solutions proposed by Kaspan and supported in the ordinance include an increase to fines for parking violations, an increase in the cap that can be charged to $2.50 per hour and extending the payment period of fines from 15 to 30 days.
Senior Planner Jennifer Campos added that most cities in Washington that charge an hourly rate for parking give the authority to set rates or caps to the city manager.
Vancouver resident Donna Brune testified at the hearing, and said that the ordinance did not seem to fit the city council’s objective of creating a vibrant downtown. She said that fees generally do not result in such an outcome.
Marcus Griffith also testified regarding the total cost of ownership survey. Since the public has not yet had a chance to view the results, Griffith said that it would be “a disservice to the democratic process to go ahead and move forward with the second reading of the proposed amendmendment.”
Griffith said he saw no harm in putting off the second reading until the public could view and comment on the survey results.
“At worst case, we lose a few weeks in the process,” Griffith said. “At best case we allow the public who has some serious concerns with this issue the opportunity for meaningful comment.”
Griffith said he was commenting more on the process of passing the ordinance, and was neutral on the ordinance itself.
Tommy Owens, owner of the restaurant Tommy O’s in Vancouver, testified against the ordinance. Owens said that his customers have told him the current parking situation makes it difficult for them to come to his restaurant.
Owens acknowledged the current parking problem, but said that “doing business downtown is becoming more and more difficult.” The solution needs to work for everyone, Owens said.
After citizen testimony, City Manager Eric Holmes reiterated that there currently is no plan to raise parking rates, only the cap under which rates can be adjusted.
“We are not talking about any new authority being granted to the city manager,” Council Member Ty Stober said. “We’re talking about the boundaries in which he’s able to operate.”
Stober also expressed frustration that with the current system, in which a parking fine costs less than a monthly bus pass. “People should be encouraged to use public transportation,” Stober said.
Council Member Bart Hansen said that he believes rate changes should come back to the city council for approval, echoing a sentiment he stated at last week’s meeting.
Council Member Bill Turlay agreed, and proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would require any rate changes to be proposed by the city manager and approved by the city council.
Turlay’s amendment failed to be enacted, with only Hansen and himself voting in favor of it.
The ordinance passed with approval from Mayor Timothy Leavitt and Council Members Jack Burkman, Anne McEnerngy-Ogle, Alishia Topper and Stober. Hansen and Turlay voted against the ordinance.
Steve Becker, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, said after the meeting that “we need a global and holistic solution” to the parking situation in Vancouver.
“I think this is a good first step,” Becker said.
After the vote, Owens said that the increases in the parking system “are making doing business difficult.”
“I just want an even playing field,” Owens said.