Citizens for a Collaborative Columbus Government
Columbus City Hall
Citizens of Columbus, Ohio
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Petition to halt and/or reverse meter rate increases and Smart Meter selection pending response to all requests outlined in the attached document: "Parking Meters: An Open Letter to the Mayor" and opportunity for community dialogue on the topics:
December 12, 2009
Mayor Coleman -
Please tell us that the media is spinning your apology and related gestures in a twisted way.
According to the media, though you apologized and indicated there were numerous interesting ideas the community has brought forward, you have no plans of halting or even slowing the meter reprogramming and implementation of the dramatic parking rate increases across Columbus.
Prior to your letter to Director Kelsey, the director had tried desperately to divert attention from the decision making process by pointing vigorously to forming an advisory committee that would look (after the fact) at meter price zones, review pricing structure, review meter times and review aggressive ticketing. According to the media, all your letter did was mandate that the Director do what he had already publicly say he was going to do. According to the media, your plan remains to reprogram the meters as quickly as possible... force the meter change on Columbus... and then put on the merchants of Columbus the burden of proof that the rate changes are indeed detrimental to the development of the urban core.
We do not believe this is the standard operating procedure of City Hall.
Dan Williamson said. "The mayor signed off on this policy because it was the right one."
In that case, on behalf of the businesses of the Short North Arts District, we request the following:
Your staff has adamantly said that ample funding decisions were considered before the parking meter rate increase was selected... Please ask staff to provide the complete list of alternatives that were considered along with the studies conducted that eliminated each as viable
Your staff has adamantly defended what would be Columbus' new parking meter pricing structure...
$3.50 to go to the YMCA on a Saturday (14 quarters to exercise). $4.50 to visit Tip Top for lunch and check out a couple of store windows (18 quarters to have a salad and quickly shop for holiday gifts).
In Cleveland, parking downtown for these same activities would cost $1.50. In Cincinnati, $2.00. In Toledo, $2.00. In Lexington, $2.00. In Dayton, $1.20. Please ask staff to provide the visitor studies that indicate parking demand in Columbus is so much greater than any of these cities, that our rates can easily be 50\% - 125\% higher with no ill effect on the businesses the meters serve.
Your staff has said the rate increase of 50\% was chosen because they used a 3\% rate of inflation compounded annually over a 13 year period (the length of time since the last "citywide" rate increase, ignoring, of course, downtown rate increases in 2005)... Yet they were not able to site any examples of any other neighboring city that has arbitrarily evaluated parking meter rate changes in this manner. Please ask staff to provide the complete report along with supporting evidence from the studies to justify the manner with which they determined the 50\% increase. Please ask staff to share the final report you signed authorizing the meter rate changes. Please ask them to include the sections on studies and stakeholder input.
Your staff has said on television during council session: "We do not operate in a vacuum." Implying ample conversations were held to gather stakeholder feedback... To date, not one constituent has been identified as having participated in any conversation whatsoever. Please ask staff to provide the roster of stakeholders who were specifically included in conversations about unilaterally raising all meter rates by 50\%. Please have staff clarify who was in favor and who opposed. Particular confusion appears to exist over this topic. Your staff has issued announcements such as: ""We talked to institutional groups with mass memberships like the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority and Experience Columbus rather than grass-roots groups, and that is our bad." Later, they claimed that even though the reference was in a letter regarding parking meters, they had switched topics and begun talking purely about the convention hotel. This is an interesting twist, since everyone in the world has been involved in conversations about the hotel. Why would staff say the city only talked with institutional groups and not grassroots groups re: the convention hotel?
Your staff has indicated that the city clearly announced back in March and April its intentions to raise parking meter rates (thereby giving constituents ample time to weigh in)... In reviewing stories in the Dispatch and Business First, we can find no mention of the city's plans to raise parking meter rates. It appears that nothing was printed until the Dispatch announcement in October, at which time stakeholders became extremely vocal. That announcement indicated the decision was fait accompli and would take effect at the end of November. Please ask staff to provide the press releases and public announcements that were issued prior to October that served as public announcement (and thereby opportunity to comment) and clearly stated the city's intention to unilaterally raise parking meter rates 50\%.
Your staff has indicated that the rate increases had to be implemented immediately to begin gathering the $1.4 million in funds for the convention hotel. It was stated that the funds were needed by the end of 2010... Urgency was stated as the reason why the rates had to be increased at the launch of the '09 holiday season when businesses compete most with suburban counterparts for consumer spending. Staff apologized for the horrific timing, but stated there was no alternative, time was of the essence. Reports from varying sources indicate, however, that staff may have exaggerated the urgency and that the funds do not have to be in place until 2012 or even 2013. Please ask your staff to clarify the urgency they reported to council and the citizens of Columbus.
Your staff is aggressively planning changes to parking meter rates, meter locations (including adding 2,000 meter to the current fleet of 4,300) and hours of operation that will ultimately generate $2.5 million or more in new revenue per year... Over the course of the next 10 years the new revenue will amount to $25 million or more. Yet the only impetus for the meter rate increases was to cover the $1.4 million fund for the Convention Hotel and $3.6 million in new meter heads. One-time line items totaling $5 million. Please ask staff to provide the budgetary reports that warranted a permanent rate increase and modifications that, combined, annually will extract $2.5 million additional dollars from the pockets of the very people trying to support the urban core... our customers. Please indicate what the plans are for the additional funds. If no plans have been determined, please provide the rationale for charging customers higher than necessary rates to reach urban businesses.
Hopefully the administration will be able to:
Demonstrate due diligence in considering alternatives to raising funds for the Convention Hotel,
Share reports that clearly indicate small businesses will not be affected by the steep meter increases,
Demonstrate that Columbus' parking rates relative to other cities will not damage its reputation and accessibility,
Demonstrate that our city government does not "work in a vacuum" and that genuine stakeholder input was sought on an extremely impactful topic,
Verify that urgent legislation was paramount to meet funding deadlines,
Verify the clear public announcements that were issued in March and April as staff has claimed,
Demonstrate the permanent 50\% increase was absolutely necessary not only to bring Columbus in line with standard parking rates across the state, but to meet ongoing budgetary demands that have been clearly identified.
We ask that the city reverse policy that allows the Director of Public Service to enact parking meter rate decisions without council input, and return the decision making to the elected officials representing the citizens of Columbus.
We ask that no replacement meters be selected until the advisory group is organized and has an opportunity to input as to their features (such as the inclusion of grace periods when meters expire).
Finally, we again ask that you request a halt to the meter rate changes until the administration clarifies the issues outlined above and demonstrates that it acted with the utmost care and consideration for the constituents it serves.
Before the burden of proof that the meter rate changes are detrimental to business is placed on the merchants of Columbus, the burden of proof that this administration acted diligently, openly and responsibly should be met.
All we are asking for is review of the studies and conversations.
Mayor, you publicly apologized for not including more voices in the decisions. You also stated that your goal is to use meters to help, not hurt our businesses. If the city does not have the studies, input and support to warrant drastic changes that undoubtedly impact visitor behavior, it would be reckless to trial-balloon business environment changes of this magnitude. By forcing the changes and then studying the impact, you would be clearly saying: "I have no qualms about putting my businesses in harms way, letting them suffer, and then, only under duress, listen to what they have to say."
Mayor, businesses are speaking now. Hopefully you will choose to listen to them now, before you turn them against you because they cannot afford to survive in downtown Columbus.