Since credit should be given where credit is due: The Platteville Common Council did the right thing one week ago by putting the brakes on renting downtown parking.
In addition to the points your favorite weekly newspaper editor made in this space one week ago, there are simply too few details known or determined to go ahead. And as pointed out at last week’s Common Council meeting, there hasn’t exactly been great communication with those most affected by parking-space rentals. There remains the need to determine which effects the parking changes that took effect over the summer are having on downtown parking.
There’s also the parking survey, or poll, or whatever you’d like to call it. Yes, it won’t be scientifically accurate by the commonly accepted standards of those who conduct surveys for a living. On the other hand, a visual survey of parking spots over a summer or during UW–Platteville’s spring break also fails that test.
(One thought: Since the survey will be available on surveymonkey.com, perhaps everyone who has received a ticket for parking near Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium for the Sept. 20 UW–Platteville game or the Sept. 21 Platteville High School game should fill out that survey too.)
It could be argued that the most valid unscientific survey would be during the winter when UW–Platteville is in session and accumulated snowfall reduces available on-street or lot parking — maximizing potential demand and minimizing potential supply. (Which would not include last winter, since we had little snowfall one winter ago.)
Common Council President Mike Dalecki has said more than once that he hears from people who ask why downtown parking is “free” but “their” parking isn’t. I assume Dalecki is referring to people who have to install parking lots or driveways on their property, as opposed to those who have parking available on a street in front of their property. (Which could apply anywhere in Platteville, not just downtown.) For anyone who has to pay for parking on their own property, that is their property to do with as they please. A parking spot on a city street technically belongs to whoever gets there first for however long that vehicle is allowed to be parked there, whether or not the vehicle and the property it’s parked in front of are owned by the same person.
Dalecki’s comment that not charging for parking privatizes benefits but socializes costs is technically correct but contextually incomplete. Of course “free” parking is not free. Nothing government does is free. Government services are paid for by tax revenues — more, in this state, by shared revenues, which means revenues from state income and sales taxes generated all over the state.
(I also notice no alderman has said that the maximum $30,000 the city could realize from renting parking spaces should be used to reduce property taxes.)
The interesting argumentative question is to ask how far should Dalecki’s line of reasoning be taken. Should the police charge you if you call in a report of a crime? Should you get a bill every time your street gets plowed? (In certain neighborhoods in Platteville, it could be argued that only those that live on a particular street get the benefit of plowing, in contrast to those who live on Main Street, North Water Street, Lancaster Street and other through streets.) Should those who live around one of Platteville’s parks get a bill every time the grass gets mowed? Should members of the Common Council be charged to serve on the council? (Their colleagues in local government on the Platteville School Board are not paid.)
The thornier parking issue seems to be parking for those who live and work downtown. There seems to be interest in long-term parking options for them, but that interest is difficult to gauge. A permit for $30 per month pays for itself upon a second $20 parking permit. On the other hand, $30 per month is a significant expense for someone getting paid only $8 to $10 per hour, and $360 per employee per year is a significant expense for businesses that don’t make enormous profits.
Few things are more visitor-unfriendly than the sight of open parking spaces that a visitor can’t use. That is the danger of trying to rent 92 parking spaces, as the council resolution proposed, instead of 30, which the Redevelopment Authority proposed. Or, for that matter, any number of spaces when the city doesn’t know for sure how much demand exists.
Here’s one idea: Perhaps the city should go ahead and rent parking spaces, but one space at a time, or one lot at a time. If you want to pay your $360, you should get a specific parking spot, labeled by sign or pavement paint with your permit number, that only the permit-holder gets to use.
The city could start with, say, the 27 Rountree Avenue stalls. If and when those spots fill with renters, the city could open up another lot for rental and sell permits only for that lot. When that lot fills, open another lot.
I close by repeating a point I made here last week: No further parking changes that affect downtown should take place until a meeting occurs that involves downtown’s constituent groups — at least members of the RDA board, the Main Street Program and the Downtown Parking Alliance, and perhaps the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce — with the Common Council, a meeting in which actual communication takes place, not merely talking at each other.
That is not during a Common Council meeting, because meetings of legislative bodies are not forums where anyone gets to say whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants. (All legislative bodies’ public input policies vary, but based on my experience the Common Council’s policy is more permissive than others I’ve covered.) It may not be possible to have such a meeting where the participants agree to live with the consensus arrived at in the meeting. But common ground needs to be found.