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City Council Passes on Parking Meter Decision

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday February 11, 2009 - 07:15:00 PM

Caught between the need to find new sources of revenue because of the failing economy and state cutbacks and the overwhelming opposition of Berkeley neighbors and business owners, the Berkeley City Council postponed on Tuesday an ambitious project to add parking meters along long stretches of San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Street, one block areas of 9th, 10th, and Camelia streets in West Berkeley, and along Adeline Avenue and Shattuck Avenue in the vicinity of the Ashby BART Station and Berkeley Bowl. 

No date has yet been set for continuation of the city’s discussion of the proposal. 

City staff had proposed a two-phase project ending in mid-summer that would have placed in new areas some 832 single-space parking meters that were re-placed when the city installed Pay and Display meter stations in the downtown commercial zone. 

But Mayor Tom Bates suggested that the council “think about this” after councilmembers received a flurry of e-mails in opposition, as well some 20 residents and business owners who came out to Tuesday’s meeting to oppose the project. 

Many residents and business owners complained that they did not receive the city notifications of the proposed meter additions until after the listed cutoff date for comments. 

Many of the comments dated after the Jan. 20 comment cutoff date were included in either the regular or the supplemental packet for Tuesday’s meeting. 

Typical of the written comments received came from the operaters of Chater Camera on Ninth Street, who wrote, “There is already restricted parking on Camelia Street between Ninth & Tenth for shoppers in that area that overflow from the parking lots, why are parking meters needed? Also, many of the businesses along Gilman have parking lots for their customers. Adding parking meters to that main street will just push more traffic into the nearby neighborhood as people look for free spots. It would increase traffic on already busy Gilman as people move cars more often and block traffic to wait for parking spaces due to shorter time limits on parking meters. Adding parking meters to our nearby streets would raise the cost for us (and our neighbors) doing business in Berkeley.” 

Wayne Rasmussen, who operates a six-employee business at Gilman and 6th, told councilmembers that the proposed parking meter expansion would be a “short-term [financial] gain for the city but a detriment to businesses and the residents.” 

Kay Ledger, who operates an architectural business on Adeline between Oregon and Stuart, said that the city “should talk to people in the neighborhood first before imposing it on us.”  

One resident living near Berkeley Bowl called the plan an “environmental disaster for people in our neighborhood,” and a West Berkeley automotive repair shop owner said it would be “a neighborhood nightmare if you don’t talk to neighbors first. You should have allowed us to give input.”  

Another West Berkeley business owner said, if asked he could have provided alternative locations for parking meters in the area of his business that might have made more sense. 

Overwhelmingly, the councilmembers agreed on sending the issue back to the council’s Agenda Committee for scheduling, while requesting further community input and suggestions on the proposed plan, including a possible special council workshop where residents would have more time to present their concerns. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he got 70 responses from a mass e-mailing he sent out on the proposal, “overwhelmingly against. That’s not surprising. Parking meters aren’t going to win any contests.”  

Wozniak said that because of the possible extensive economic and environmental impact of the proposed new meters, he felt a formal Environmental Impact Report (EIR) “is appropriate,” and suggested that if and when the new meters are installed “the neighborhoods should get something back,” including a possible one-fourth to one-third of the added revenues going to specific improvements in the neighborhoods affected. 

The issue also brought some of the back-and-forth between Bates and Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who sit next to each other on the council dais, and whose repartee so often characterizes council meetings. 

After Mayor Bates said that while the city “obviously doesn’t want to impose these things” on the community, he suggested that one of the reasons for the widespread community opposition was simply a reluctance to change: 

“My experience in six years being mayor of this city is that a lot of times people are afraid of change. And a lot of times, that change is positive.” 

A few minutes later, Worthington rejoined, “I, for one, am not afraid to change. Every week of my life I’m fighting for social change. I just want to make sure it’s change for the better, and not change for the worse.” 

Worthington said that while he could support the meter expansion program in some of the areas proposed, he understood that its purpose was supposed to be to keep open spots for retail customers, “I don’t see how parking meters on Gilman make sense,” Worthington said. “That’s not a retail section.” 

Worthington suggested that the city review its overall policies on citizen notification “so that we don’t continue to have situations where people come to meetings saying ‘I didn’t know about this.’” 

And Councilmember Max Anderson said that, despite the fact that staff members appeared to have done more than required by city ordinance to inform residents and business owners about the proposed changes, “We still have a situation where people didn’t have an opportunity to give suggestions, and the city didn’t have the benefit of the wisdom of people who have lived in the area, know the streets, and appreciate the interaction between residential and commercial areas.”  

Calling the parking meter proposal “sort of lurching towards piecemeal approaches” to city planning, Moore added that “we all know” that “this country, this state, this county, and this city are suffering from tremendous pressure, economically. I would venture to say we wouldn’t be even having this discussion if there weren’t economic pressures pushing the city towards addressing its fiscal needs. But on the other hand, it even becomes more important that we communicate with people, that we create general consensus, that we create an environment where ideas can emerge and where people’s input can be incorporated into the plans.”