Free Saturday, evening parking remains

The City Council took the only logical action it could this week when it voted to rescind its May decision to extend parking meter enforcement hours to the evening and Saturday.

The council initially extended the hours as part of the plan to finance a parking structure for the city parking lot that sits at Second and Wall streets. The extended hours would have generated an estimated $4 million to $5 million toward the structure. But a citizen’s group called Friends of the Downtown conducted a successful referendum that forced the council to either rescind or put the matter before the public with a $100,000 ballot measure next June.

If the measure failed, a very likely outcome, the matter could not be brought up again for another year beyond that. By rescinding the extension of hours, the council can bring the matter up again next September.

Last year the council voted to double the meters’ hourly rates from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour. That increase was not challenged because it did not go into effect until this year and at the time, news of the pending multi-level parking structure, estimated to cost between $15 million and $18 million, had not really reached the public’s ear.

Councilmember Steve Bertagna said the matter had become so political that the truth had been obscured.

“I want to move forward with the parking structure, but I’m going to rescind,” he said.

Councilmember Andy Holcombe, however, said he would like to see the matter go to a vote, saying the extended hours were not an outrageous addition.

Structure supporter Alan Chamberlain called the Friends of the Downtown and the 4,000-plus who signed the referendum an “obstructionist minority” that is “chronically disaffected,” and urged the council to put the matter to a vote of the citizens.

John Gillander said the council should use redevelopment funds to pay for the structure before the liberals spend it on vacant lands and consultant fees.

Former Chico Mayor Karl Ory, who helped spearhead the referendum drive, told the council he was glad the debate over the structure was still alive. He also said that the argument put forth by the Downtown Chico Business Association that the downtown merchants need the additional parking to accommodate its customers is a smokescreen.

Citing a memo sent by the assistant city attorney, Ory said the real reason for the structure is to make sure there is ample parking to grease the wheels for high-density downtown development.

“That is the real reason [supporters] want the parking structure,” Ory said. “Let’s get that out and discuss it.”

The council voted 4 to 1 to rescind the extended hours with only Holcombe voting in the minority. Councilmembers Ann Schwab and Larry Wahl are both conflicted out of the matter because they own a downtown business or property.

Later this month a charrette, a fancy word for public workshop, will be held to discuss the need, design and location of a parking structure.