Let’s Talk! Parking Pressures Highlight Need For Conversation
About 121 residential units – apartments, condos, studios – are located in Salem’s downtown core, the area roughly between Union Street, Trade Street, Church Street and Front Street.
In October, the people who lived in these households became eligible for free, all day on-street parking when Salem City Council adopted an initiative signed by 9,000 citizens.
The same downtown area contains about 1,260 on-street parking spaces. With some residential units housing people who don’t own cars – and others housing people with more than one car – downtown has potentially lost one-in-ten of the high-demand customer spaces that businesses there rely on.
Since the objective of the initiative was to provide more parking for customers, the influx of residents who now occupy spots all day is an unintended consequence that upsets many downtown businesspeople.
Angie Oven, owner of the Bridal Gallery on Liberty Street, is one. “I don’t like residents parking on the street downtown,” she says, “and letting them do this was a huge omission in the new policy.” Oven pays a parking tax for street spaces near her store, but says that since the new law, her customers have a “terrible” time finding a spot, especially later in the day.
“My peak hours are 3 – 6 p.m., and we make appointments on the half hour or the hour,” she says. “But now we have people constantly late because they can’t find parking, and it creates a cascading negative effect in their overall experience.”
Selecting a wedding gown, “which should be one of the most happy and meaningful experiences of someone’s life, starts off frustrating,” Oven says. “Or, even worse, a customers keeps going, bypassing downtown altogether and driving to Keizer.”
Eli Kem, an owner of Willamette Valley Music Company on State Street, is a Block Captain, a position assigned by the City of Salem’s Urban Development Department. Kem says he’s worked successfully with the City’s Parking Enforcement to find solutions for employee parking issues.
He is somewhat concerned about the building at State and Liberty, currently under renovation. “It could increase my problems,” he says. When work is completed, six new condominiums will be on the market, less than a block from his business.
“I don’t really think residents should be able to park downtown for free,” Kem says, “since their cars can take up a spot on the street on their days off.” He feels the solution is to charge theses residents to park in garages. “They would just figure it as a part of the expense of living downtown.”
Rick Gassner, owner of Saffron Supply hardware, faces his own challenges. Saffron Supply is located near the Union Gospel Mission, some of whose residents park cars in front of his store “24-hours a day, 7 days a week,” blocking spots his customers need.
Gassner is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of city support; “One of my people called the city about this three weeks ago,” he says, “and I never saw anyone come over to check it out. There used to be people from parking enforcement who would walk around with pads. Maybe they did come; all I know is that since our complaint those cars are still there. And the [parking enforcement] office is right across the street from us.”
With the U.S. Census seeing a trend for Americans, especially younger ones, to move to city centers to live, it seems likely that downtown Salem’s residential density will only grow.
A livable downtown provides numerous benefits to a community and goes hand in hand with an increase in culture, tourism, business and greater building occupancy. Finding a solution for downtown resident parkers, respecting their needs and rights, as well as those of people who do business downtown is not an issue that will go away. It is an issue that matters to all Salem citizens who value a healthy city.
A decade ago the language in the city code (SRC 102.535 (d)) was, “A resident of the Downtown Parking District holding a valid residential parking permit may park on-street between 5 PM and 9 AM for any length of time, and may park on-street between 9 AM and 5 PM for no more than 120 consecutive minutes.”
This changed in about 2008, with the new rules that specified that no one could park more than 2 hours per day per blockface. SRC 102.535 was eliminated because it no longer applied.
Last summer’s citizen’s petition did not mention downtown resident parking, in hindsight perhaps an omission – and when City Council adopted the petition, they too did not add back language that would protect downtown businesses from these cars. Both actions created the pressure for on-street parking spots that frustrates the businesspeople interviewed for this story today.
However, downtown business owner Carole Smith, one of the petition’s creators, says that the purpose of the petition was simply to express the community’s desire to support downtown businesses and customers. Noting that petition language is not usually adopted verbatim, and that she expected to negotiate portions of the document with the city, Smith says, “What needed to happen, was that a partnership needed to begin between the city and the petitioners.” Smith is disappointed that no partnership has developed.
Chuck Bennett is councilor for Ward 1, which includes downtown. Bennett says that finding a solution that works, and is “acceptable to the majority of residents, employees, property and business owners is a challenge for all involved.”
Salem City Council is the only entity that has the power to change the code regarding downtown residents parking on the street. The city’s website says that council, “may want to revisit this issue in the future.”
It would seem to be an effort worth making. Although Bennett says, “so far these different [downtown] constituents have been unable to agree on” a solution, he vows that city council “will continue to work with them on finding one.”
The attitude of downtown business seems to be one of impatience to do just that, and sooner than later. Gassner says, “I think there needs to be dialogue between the city and the committee, people like Carole Smith, who did the petitions in the first place.”
Smith concurs that this would be a productive step. “Any kind of communication with the city council would have been welcomed, and still would be.”
The will to change the rules already exists. A “Survey Monkey” poll taken of about 100 downtown businesses in November showed that more than 64% of respondents believed downtown residents should be prohibited from parking downtown during daytime business hours.
Although Bennett feels the downtown community can’t agree on a plan, Dave Moss, who served as treasurer for the petition effort and is himself a former City Councilor, believes it is the city council that has resisted dialogue. Moss says he hasn’t “seen this city council listen to dissent well, and, as a result, they don’t seek to bring different sides together well. But to solve downtown parking, people have to come together with their different points of view.”
In the end it may not matter who is at “fault” as how the community joins together to respond to the problem. Mayor Anna Peterson was in Japan during the writing of this story, but in her 2014 State of the City remarks, she suggested the value she put on teamwork and respectful exchange when she described the current Salem City Council, “the Collaboration Council.”
Moss believes the Mayor’s statement is a positive one for all who want to solve downtown parking issues such as residents who park on the street.
“For people to really come together, they have to bring their own points of view and articulate them, and they have to listen to other people’s points of view,” he says.
“It’s when you do this that you can look for common ground. And that’s how you find solutions.”