- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Last fall, Salem City Council members bowed to the will of 6,000 people who signed a petition demanding free, unrestricted parking downtown. The two-hour parking signs started coming out within days.

As a result, say downtown business owners and a consultant, parking spots are harder to come by.

Business owners are calling for alternatives, saying that the lack of on-street parking in the Downtown Parking District has gone from a sporadic problem to a near constant irritant.

They cite a city consultant’s report that estimates $15 in spending results each time a parking space turns over, the Salem Statesman Journal (https://stjr.nl/XN1Esd) reports.

“We just aren’t getting the turnover that is critical to every single business down here.” said Lyn McPherson, co-owner of Whitlock’s Vacuum & Sewing Center.



City officials now are taking a second look at the parking, the Salem Statesman Journal reports.

Some critics put the blame on downtown employees using parking spots during their shifts. That’s illegal, but the law’s hard to enforce. Few business owners want to turn over employee data, which could become public records.

In the meantime, the city reports, hundreds of parking spots go unused in downtown parking garages, where the city has spent $6 million in urban renewal funds in for capital improvements such as replacing worn-out elevators.

Resistance to paid parking has long been strong in Salem, Oregon’s capital city. Last fall, a group called Stop Parking Meters in Downtown Salem circulated petitions meant to head them off in the downtown core.

The petition also called for an end to the two-hour parking time limit, as well as a cap on increases in the parking tax paid by downtown businesses. If the council hadn’t acted, the petition would have gone to voters in May.

Council members say they were skeptical about free, unlimited parking. But given overwhelming public support for the petition, they chose to adopt its intent.

“The problem is, it really didn’t work,” said City Council member Chuck Bennett.

Rick Williams Consulting, the firm hired by the city, found that the turnover of parking spaces in a 10-hour period has decreased by 17 percent compared with 2012.

But the city hasn’t made a good-faith effort to make free parking work, and it hasn’t cracked down on employees parking illegally, said Carole Smith, who owns property downtown and organized the petition drive. “I don’t know how you get the city to enforce something they don’t want to do,” Smith said.

An action as simple as putting up signs saying “Free Customer Parking” might discourage illegal employee parking, she said.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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