It’s not just a spot to put your car, it’s an expression of whether your city cares


We all remember how 9,000 voters signed a citizen’s “parking meter petition” last summer.  The petition was a reaction to the threat of paid parking in the downtown district, which had been recently recommended by the Mayor’s Parking Task Force.  It was an effort to put the issue of free parking for downtown Salem customers on the May ballot.  It was meant to tell the city that citizens didn’t like the idea of paid downtown parking.

The people who signed the petition were only a small percentage of voters registered in the city, and they were educated by volunteers on street corners; they weren’t the people who had been elected to make the city work, or who are paid to make the city work.

So it is a shame that, instead of honoring the intention of The People, instead of letting the petition stand for the voice of citizens, the very officials who are most informed and experienced – implemented the petition overnight rather than letting it go to a public vote in May.

Literally overnight.  The City Council discussed the petition on October 14.  They voted to enact it immediately – October 15.  Just

weeks before the holidays , the most important time of year for downtown.

In doing this, Salem’s City Council let the people of Salem down.  They let downtown businesses down.

Had the council let the people vote in May as the petitioners wished, the city could have had time to figure out strategies to make it work better on the chance it was approved, so it could successfully express the will of the people.

The City would have had months to prepare plans for new signs, for memos to other governmental agencies, for letters to employers that had real force behind them.

Instead, it instituted a plan that started “tomorrow.”

No matter what side of the issue you’re on, wouldn’t YOU have liked to have had a voice?  Don’t YOU think it would have helped to have had a community discussion, editorials in newspapers and on blogs about the upcoming vote – and then been able to vote yourself?

If downtown is in trouble now, it seems the responsibility lies with City Council and our downtown councilor – not with city staff or the public .  Because councilors implemented a plan they almost all said on October 14 was a bad idea.

And by approving the petition overnight, the Council has opened itself to criticism that it  didn’t ever want it to succeed.

Walk down a Salem downtown street, talk to a downtown business owner, and what you hear is: the city set the free parking up to fail so they could then put in the meters they wanted all along.  You hear it on every block; the inevitable failure of free parking is just an excuse to justify installing meters down the road.

Some think the trouble began when the Mayor’s Parking Task Force didn’t include representation of small downtown businesses in their discussions in the first place.  They believe the petition was a “push back” from businesses who felt unheard by the Task Force’s zeal to set up meters in front of their business.

And if this theory is correct, can you blame these same businesses for feeling like the city is retaliating against them when – after the petition was in play – the City added insult to injury by stopping letting businesses use the 30-min spots for loading?  Or for abruptly doubling the minimum downtown parking tax on the smallest businesses?

Had the City Council, Mayor and City Manager worked with the small businesses from the get-go, had they included them in the Parking Task Force and “heard” their ideas and concerns, the petition would likely never have come to light.  Had they respected the wishes of the People, they’d have worked in good faith to make the People’s will be realized with a city-wide discussion and vote.

As it was, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the folks that elect our officials or pay their salaries.  Implementing new rules just prior to the holiday season, without adequate discussion, strategizing and support was heartless.  It hurt downtown businesses that the city should be supporting and protecting.

The city must learn to listen to its people, to act in response to the wishes of its people.  Currently on this issue, it is estranged from its people .  And the people certainly feel it.


What do you think?

10 thoughts on “It’s not just a spot to put your car, it’s an expression of whether your city cares”

  1. The “proper” thing to do was keep the 2 hour parking limit intact without the possibility of meters in the core. The limit would have created the turnover
    small business needs downtown. People who have business @ the courthouse and folks that treat coffee houses as their office would not clog up needed parking spaces. Also, the City of Salem needs to get out of the parking garage business and let someone who knows how to run a business assume the responsibility…

    1. Lyn,

      Time limits and meters are both parking management tools. They should only be used to manage parking – they are not meant to be revenue tools for cities. The city put in 2 hour limits because their consultant told them they could reap $500,000 annually with parking tickets.

      2 hour limits have NOT increased parking turnover or decreased the length of time a car parks downtown according to the city consultants annual reports. I know many people believe 2 hour limits have made parking easier to find, but the numbers don’t prove that out.

      Did you know the parking consultant the city hired couldn’t find a parking problem downtown – but the city implemented 2 hour limits anyway just for the money?

      Did you know the city is loosing $110,000 a year on 2 hour limits because the ticket revenue is less than the cost of enforcement?

      What 2 hour limits DID do was run our customers out of downtown before they were done shopping and eating – hurting the businesses.

      Did you know with 2 hour limits you were twice as likely to get a parking ticket downtown than any other area of Salem – even the Capitol Mall?

      Did you know, after the first year 2 hour limits were implemented, 1,300 cars stopped using the garages? Where did they go, and who were they? Many were employees tired of paying $50-60 a month to park – they moved onto the street. And the city didn’t care because now the city could ticket them.

      One downtown business owner bragged “last year I only got $600 of parking tickets, but it would have cost me $800 to park in the garage”. That’s what 2 hour limits did.

      Did you know downtown businesses pay the city over $400,000 annually to rent all the on-street parking spaces for our cusotmers to use? Parking is not free – we have been paying for it since 1976.

      What the City needs to do is to prevent employees, business owners, volunteers and students enrolled in downtown classes – from using on-street parking spaces. Then you would see LOTS of available on-street parking for customers.

      We also need $1 a day parking in the city garages to make parking affordable for all full and part-time employees downtown. That would increase the income to the garages by $750,000 a year. . . – That could pay for the deferred maintenance in the garages and eliminate the need for parking meter revenue.

      There are reasonable solutions to the deferred maintanence problem the city has created downtown. The city needs to talk with, and work with the downtown community on an acceptable solution we can all embrace.

  2. Great opinion article on downtown parking Salem Weekly. We appreciate your support for customer friendly downtown parking through the years. Without a concerned and watchful newspaper where would democracy be? Keep speaking the truth.

  3. In my opinion you couldn’t of encapsulated the meter of the downtown communities view of the parking situation and actions of the City Council better!
    As a downtown business owner and Salem resident I take comfort in knowing that at least our local newspaper supports and is in touch with the majority of downtown business owners even if our City Council isn’t.

  4. Since they removed the two hour limits it has been impossible to find parking downtown from 11 to 2 pm. I work on the fringe of downtown but eat out often. It is such a headache to park down there now that I tend to gravitate towards places not downtown because its a pain to park.

    Why they would switch to unlimited parking is beyond me. It just invites abuse. I suppose some businesses really love being able to have customers park for hours and hours. So maybe this is creating a lot of business for them??

    My mom wanted to meet for lunch the other day and we wound up going out south rather than our traditional downtown spot because she refuses to park more than three blocks away and that is pretty much the norm now downtown.

    So continue with the unlimited parking if you want to drive revenue out of the downtown core.

    Why not have reasonably priced meters like Portland. You park, swipe your card and it’s usually just a buck or two. I never have trouble finding metered parking when I go up for meetings downtown Portland. Seems like it would solve a lot of problems and not have city employees chasing the proverbial whale(s). Just not those awful coin op meters like the Library. I don’t go anymore because I never have change in my car.

  5. I think your editorial was a valuable contribution. I’d say you are probably right about the City Council, Mayor and City Manager mishandling the situation.

  6. Maybe I don’t go downtown during the busiest times, but I haven’t had any more difficulty parking after the two hour time limit was abolished. Sure, some days downtown is more crowded than others. I never have had to park more than a block from my destination, though.

    The aesthetics of downtown are markedly improved with the two hour limit signs removed. Immediately after this was done I was struck by how much less cluttered the sidewalks looked. I’m used to the change now. If meters or parking signs went back in, it would be a big step backward appearance-wise for downtown.

    As this piece noted, the City does seem to have it in for downtown small businesses after so many of them supported the citizen petition banning parking meters. I’ll admit that doing away with the two hour limit wasn’t nearly as well publicized as being part of the initiative.

    Now that I’ve had some experience with this change, I’m reluctant to go back to the old time limit days. Numerous times recently I’ve had several things to do downtown and began to get into my old mindset of worrying: “Oh, no, I need to move my car or I’ll get a ticket.” Then I realized, “Ah… time limits have been abolished. I can stay downtown as long as I want.”

    There may be a time to take another look at parking meters. That moment hasn’t arrived. Parking meters should be a way to “ration” scarce in-demand parking spaces to generate more turnover. It sure doesn’t seem that the big problem in downtown Salem is too many visitors. Rather, the opposite. The City should be supporting vitalization of downtown, rather than punishing small businesses by raising their parking tax and giving them tickets when they use 30-minute zones.

  7. Try to park a block away anywhere near lunchtime.

    Employees and business owners are now parking on the street all day. Filing up a lot of parking spots.

    Personally, I think if they are going to charge the parking tax they should let the downtown owners decide how to implement parking limits. Any time you get government involved in the process you get people who have no real stake in the end product making decisions that effect their businesses. The city obviously needs to be involved in the enforcement, but the more hands off they can be the better. The city admin is not very good at this stuff and should have very minimal input. [*The parking enforcement officers do a good job*].

    The less the city is involved in the the decision making process the better. There are a bunch of overpaid managers that, in my opinion, don’t do a very good job.

  8. The city’s job should be to facilitate, not to dictate.

    City government needs to determine what the citizens want and what the business owners want, then figure out a way to make it happen. THAT is what government is supposed to be.

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