Council bows to protests, rolls back parking hours
on October 7, 2009
Amid calls for civility and compromise, members of the Oakland City Council apologized last night for their handling of unpopular parking hikes and voted to roll back meter hours from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m.
In a six-to-one vote, the council passed a rollback proposal from two weeks ago, with the recommendation that the city recoup a reported $1 million in lost revenues though parking and other endeavors, including a crackdown on the misuse of handicapped parking permits and the sale of new billboard space.
“We are trying to do a balanced approach to give some relief to our businesses,” said Councilmember Patricia Kernighan, who introduced the motion. “People don’t want to feel that we are balancing the budget on their backs or punishing them.”
Several city council members apologized for their handling of the unpopular parking hikes that were passed in July. “We made a mistake,” said Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente, who also apologized for his absence at the last council meeting. “Maybe we can spend the energy trying to restore the confidence and bring people back to Oakland.”
Councilmembers Jane Brunner, Larry Reid, Rebecca Kaplan, Patricia Kernighan, Ignacio De La Fuente and Jean Quan voted for the rollback. Nancy Nadel voted against it, and Desley Brooks was absent from the meeting. The council requested that the city administrator make the change to the meter hours effective immediately. The process would otherwise have required one final confirmation at the next city council meeting.
Nadel, who cast the lone vote against the rollback measure, said that although extending the parking meter hours was politically unpopular, “that doesn’t mean it was bad policy.” Nadel also said that she was against new billboards.
Brunner, the council president, said the council had “struggled” with city staff over how to fund the rollback, because the staff recommendations consisted of funding proposals that the council had previously rejected. “It was very hard to work with them,” said Brunner. “I’m not thrilled with the billboards.”
The parking issue drew 90 public statements during a comment period that lasted for about an hour. Among the speakers was a small group of people affiliated with an initiative called “Tax Cannabis 2010” that asked the council to “tax us, not the parkers.” There were also eight people who argued against the rollback, saying parking hikes were a legitimate source of revenue for the city and citing environmental concerns with the city’s transportation policy.
At one point, as a few members of the crowd booed the anti-rollback speakers, Brunner asked the audience to show more civility and respect. The noise died down and the room was quieter from that point forward.
About thirty small business owners and employees approached the podium en masse, lead by Carl Chan of the Chinatown Downtown Chamber Foundation, to testify to the losses they say the parking hikes have caused their businesses and speak in favor of the rollback.
“I’m here truly representing the people, the small businesses,” said Chan, who helped craft the council’s rollback measure. “We are going to be your solutions, because we want to work with you.”
During his speech, Chan apologized to Rebecca Kaplan for “raising my voice” after the failure of the rollback measure at the last council meeting.
Allen Michaan, the most vocal opponent of the parking hikes, also apologized for being “strident” at the last meeting.
“To those who think that it’s my fault that people aren’t going to Oakland, I’m sorry I got on the news and told the truth,” Michaan said of the battle he has waged against the council since the passage of the parking hikes in July. “I don’t want to see our problems get worse, and we need to do something, a really grand gesture, to bring people back.”
One proposal for a grand gesture came from Lakeshore Business Improvement District Director Pamela Drake, who is planning city-wide open houses—featuring discounts, food and music—in Oakland businesses on October 23. She said she is hoping the festivities will lure back customers who she says might have been put off by parking hikes.
At the meeting, Drake shook hands and passed out photocopies of her press release, which were made for her by Andre Jones, Chief of Staff for Rebecca Kaplan.
“It’s not about blaming the city. They’re in tough times too, ”Drake said. “The merchants are really suffering from the recession and the parking. It’s a double whammy, so I wanted to turn the conversation around.”
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