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Sarasota Thursday, May. 13, 2010 7 years ago

Our View


When you hear about all of the shuffling still going on between Sarasota City Hall and the Downtown Improvement District and Downtown Sarasota Alliance over metered and paid parking for downtown Sarasota, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that city commissioners and city staff still don’t want to make a decision.

They might make someone angry — the downtown merchants, city residents or both.

Next Monday, the City Commission is expected to address the subject of whether to install metered parking on Main Street and other downtown streets. This comes after nearly 10 months of city commissioners making on-again, off-again decisions.

It’s quite apparent the city staff and commission still aren’t ready to commit to a firm strategy or parking policy. City staffers have been soliciting opinions from the downtown groups — an appropriate step — to make them part of the process. But when you talk to members of these groups, you get the clear impression they see city officials angling for cover. If, say, the downtown groups endorse a plan that is implemented but later turns out to be a disaster, city officials can say they only did what their constituents asked.

In this latest round of determining what to do, city officials are presenting two choices: whether to initiate paid street parking; or keep free parking and use property taxes to subsidize the city’s parking operations.

This either/or proposition is puzzling. It appears to be driven more by the city administration wanting to boost revenues in its parking division fund to a level that will cover its expenses rather than by a parking strategy that makes economic and business sense for the city and downtown. In the latter instance, keep in mind that downtown is one of the city’s chief tax, tourist and business generators and having the right strategy is crucial.

If the reason for having metered parking on Main is to raise revenue (a tax), then why shouldn’t that same policy be extended to, say, Southside Village? If the city’s parking division expenses are greater than its revenues, then why not do what businesses always do first — find ways to cut expenses to equal revenues? In this instance, perhaps free parking and suspending enforcement efforts during the summer would help balance the revenue-expense imbalance.

Previously, we argued against metered parking downtown until there was adequate offstreet parking and while the economy was in recession. But now the recession is ending, and come December, the city’s new parking garage on Palm Avenue will open. Faced with the latter, the city will have a new dilemma. If parking remains free on Palm and lower Main, what’s the incentive for consumers to pay for parking in the new garage? Not much of one, unless all the street slots are full.

In the end, paid street parking in Sarasota’s downtown core is inevitable. This will not result just to cover the parking division’s expenses. It will be driven more for the health of downtown businesses.

But how the city implements this strategy and policy is not as simple as commissioners voting at Monday’s meeting to institute paid parking.

Before commissioners go that route, they, city staffers and downtown business owners should take a drive to St. Petersburg. That city has gone through all of this — and then some. And since 2003, when it began methodically re-installing paid meters downtown, St. Petersburg appears to have adopted successful strategies and policies that, for the most part, residents and business owners embrace.

+ Bigger than the oil spill
Count on the mainstream media and Congress to suck every ounce out of the oil-rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And to be sure, Florida’s media will be right in with the pack.

Don’t you just love the TV hypsters, with their big graphic logos heralding “Crisis in the Gulf” and other over-the-top sensationalism? Heck, even our own congressman, Vern Buchanan, got into the act, touring the oil spill area and proclaiming, “We need to hold BP accountable and make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Way to talk tough.

To be sure, the oil spill is a tragedy. And British Petroleum should pay for any damages it inflicts on others’ property — just as you or we would pay for damaging our neighbors’ properties.

But is the oil spill on the same scale as the death and destruction that occurred in the Midwest tornadoes (five deaths), the floods in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi (33 deaths) and the earthquake in Haiti (92,000 deaths), not to mention the billions in lost property?

These stories have been pushed to the inside pages because of our misguided and brainwashed obsession with greenness.

No one wants or likes to see oil spills anywhere. And yes, this is a big news story. But our media brethren need some perspective. Isn’t it worth mentioning the upside, so far, to how little oil actually has gone ashore?

+ Arizona comes to Florida
Arizona’s new immigration law certainly thrust that issue to the national political forefront. But curiously, illegal immigration has not been high in any of our office seekers’ campaign speeches.

Expect that to change.

Florida has the fourth-largest number of illegal aliens in the United States — about 950,000 (California: 3.2 million; Texas: 1.74 million; New York: 1 million). And according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Florida’s illegal aliens cost Floridians about $2.2 billion a year. That’s the net cost — after taking into account how much they pay in taxes — for providing them with public education, health care and jail time.

+ Vox unpopuli
“Whether it be wind, solar, natural gas, nuclear — what have you — to wean ourselves off this dependence on this dirty stuff is just the right thing to do.”
Gov. Charlie Crist

“This dirty stuff,” Mr. Crist flippantly neglects to think about, has been one of the most miraculous wonders of the world since the beginning of man.

The world’s standard of living would be biblically primitive and nowhere near the extraordinary levels it is today were it not for oil and how human minds and hands have applied it to our daily lives.

Once again, Crist’s populist pandering demonstrates his persistent intellectual shallowness.

Parking Protest
After Hurricane Ike destroyed Galveston’s downtown parking meters, the city tried operating without meters and with free parking.

How did it work out? Here’s a story from the The Galveston County Daily News, Jan. 23:

GALVESTON — Downtown business owners are pushing back against a petition drive that seeks to ban fees for parking along city streets.

The merchants are circulating their own petition in support of paid parking downtown to head off the effort, led by Greg Roof, to abolish all fees for parking on Galveston streets.

“I’m for the parking meters,” Allen Flores, owner of downtown dance club Boomba Ultra Lounge, 2410 The Strand, said. “We’ve had a year of free parking, and it has proved to be detrimental to our business. The residents and employees occupy the spaces so customers don’t have anywhere to park.”

Business owners have complained downtown Galveston became a parking lot in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike as residents and merchants took advantage of free parking made possible by the damaged meters.

The city has announced plans to replace more than 900 hurricane-damaged downtown parking meters with new electronic devices within the next 90 days.”

Lessons on Downtown parking from St. Petersburg
Over the past seven years, St. Petersburg has installed 1,450 parking meters downtown, strategically placing them in congested areas.

Prior to their installation, according to Evan Mory, the city’s parking manager for the past five years, city officials conduct surveys and interviews with affected business owners and operators. They conduct education sessions with them to show the benefits of paid street parking. And after all of this, but only as long as a majority of affected businesses buy in, will the city install the meters.

Mory says many downtown businesses have reported increased customer traffic after the meters’ installation. But a key to that has been having adequate off-street parking for businesses’ employees — many of whom were the biggest violators of overusing free parking in front of their employers’ stores.

Next month, the city is implementing changes to its downtown parking operations. Here are some of the changes. All of them are lessons for Sarasota:

• Reduce the number of hours for metered parking from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. for all meters. On the waterfront, metered hours will be reduced by three hours every evening from 11 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• Around BayWalk, extend 90-minute limit parking to two hours and stop enforcement at 10 p.m. instead of midnight;

• All other 90-minute and one-hour limit parking throughout downtown will be extended to two hours;

• Offer a new pay-by-cell phone option for motorists who do not have change;

• Offer a discounted rooftop parking rate of $20 a month for businesses’ employees at the South Core Garage;

• Increase the cost of downtown meters from 50 cents an hour to 75 cents an hour (20 minutes for 25 cents);

• Install pay stations that accept credit cards at The Pier’s Pelican lot and the South Core Parking Garage.

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