Meter madness

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

To finance a new parking structure lobbied for by downtown business owners, the City Council majority decided to double the fee for metered parking, and also charge for previously free evenings and weekends.

In most spots, 25 cents buys 30 minutes. Those are big-city rates. College students may be used to plunking down two bits for a scant half-hour of meter time, but, as the refrain goes, “this is Chico.”

For the downtown working stiff, $4 a day for parking is too steep. We’ll walk four blocks before we cough up that much coin for the luxury of a slice of sidewalk. And it looks like we’re not alone. Rows of meters that used to be fronted by vehicles now sit vacant—at least in the downtown periphery where people tend to park for more than a couple of hours. And if no one wants to pay to park there, who do you think is going to pony up to park in the fancy new structure—if the meters can even generate the anticipated funds to pay for its construction.

It used to be that meters were used to keep a continuous flow of parking spaces open for downtown shoppers. The city was content to break even on meters and enforcement. Now, the City Council majority sees them as a revenue stream.

We think business owners who initially supported it are going to regret the deal. Not only is the price too high, but the first time a tourist or a local who rarely ventures downtown gets popped with a $15 ticket (double the previous rate) it may be the last time they shop there. We want people to praise our downtown, not curse it.

Besides showing faulty logic, the process couldn’t have gone down any sloppier. First, the City Council approved the meter increase a full year before it went into place and well before there was any public dialogue over the wisdom of building a parking structure.

Now we hear the downtown businesses who championed the meter increase (and, by extension, the structure) are having second thoughts about charging to park in the evening.

If the structure opponents are successful, the extra revenue won’t be needed. Then, we hope, the city will roll back the meter costs to something more in line with Chico.