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Free parking until Jan. on roads near Telegraph Avenue

By Mike Dinoffria, Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday July 17, 2002

One hundred and sixty parking meters wearing green hoods could be doomed for the gallows if a six-month study concludes that the meters cost more than they earn. 

The Pilot Parking Program will determine whether the city’s parking enforcement staff, without the meters, is able to enforce the vehicle turnover necessary to keep Telegraph Avenue shops hopping. Constant repairs to the meters are suspected to cost more than the meters take in. 

Until mid-January there will be no charge for parking at metered spaces covered by green hoods near Telegraph Avenue on the following avenues: Bancroft, Druant, Piedmont and Dana Avenue.  

But time limits ranging from one half- hour to two hours will be enforced. Meter maids will chalk tires, and owners of vehicles clogging spots intended for high-turnover could face multiple citations in a day.  

The city charges $23 to vehicle owners who overstay. 

If the study finds that the city can effectively enforce parking limits, the city will recommend that the meters be removed, said Lt. Bruce Agnew of the Berkeley Police Department. City Council will decide. 

“The parking in the area is not meant for all day parking,” said Agnew, referring to the area servicing the Telegraph Avenue shopping area that is home to a number of shops and eateries. 

The parking problem has largely been the product of vandalism, city officials said.  

About 8,000 repairs were made to parking meters in the Telegraph area during a 12-month period and about 90 percent of those were due to vandalism, said Kathy Berger of the Telegraph Area Association, the community development organization that at the request of the city put together the project.  

“People were jamming the meters and parking for free all day, preventing the turnover needed for businesses,” said Agnew. Car owners have been leaving their cars in spots with broken meters, some of which were unofficially marked by citizens with paper and plastic bags, way beyond the time allotted. 

One of the hypothesizes of this study is that the cost of the constant repairs of the meters exceeds the potential revenue of the meters. If that is found to be true, it could mean the removal of the disabled meters.  

Local merchants said they do not know how the changes will affect their business yet, but some are optimistic. 

Helen Carr of the University Press Bookstore on Bancroft says that she appreciates the relief from the cumbersome process of handing out change to patrons who want to feed the meter, and said that “half the time the meters are broken anyway.” 

Some area merchants, on the other hand, are rolling their eyes about the study.  

One merchant said that the city would have been better off taking this action a few years ago, when the meters were decapitated by a vandal, and suspected that the unreliability of the meters is more likely the reason behind the city’s involvement in the project than its concern for the merchants.