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Protest follows raise in parking prices

Tensions were high at the Sept. 22 Oakland City Council meeting, as dozens gathered to protest the city’s new parking policies.

“Rescind or Recall” was the slogan of the night for protesters who urged Council members to overturn these new policies or face a recall election and risk losing their seats.

In July, the Council voted to adopt new parking measures in an effort to bring in more revenue to balance the city’s budget. The new restrictions raised hourly parking meter fees 50 cents to $2 and increased the price of parking ticket fines to $55. Meter enforcement hours were also extended from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

In response to outcry over the changes, Council members Pat Kernighan, Jean Quan and Jane Brunner introduced a measure that would have rolled back metering hours to 6 p.m. The motion failed to pass with a majority vote.

As part of the meeting, the Council heard from business owners angry about the effects they say the changes have caused.

A group of Chinatown business owners said many businesses in the area are experiencing a 30 percent loss in business.

In total, about 48 citizens had signed up to address the council but many gave up their time to Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater.

Michaan accused the council of holding the parking negotiations in secret.

“The public had not been advised,” said Michaan. He explained that many residents in the affected areas woke up the morning after the new policies were implemented to find they had been ticketed for parking violations that had not existed the night before. “What kind of government attacks their citizens like that?” he said.

Michaan also said the Grand Lake saw a 50 percent decline in business at the theater since the new parking policies were implemented, and said that many potential patrons are going to neighboring cities to spend their money.

Other protesters expressed similar sentiments.

Bruce Joffe, an Oakland business owner, said council members created a “parking meter regime.”

“Parking enforcement is a greedy business,” said Oakland citizen James Webber.

Several citizens and business owners also proposed free parking and lowered ticket fines in order to boost local business and therefore tax revenue.

“You’re taking money out of the mouths of children,” said Virgil Jackson, who was ticketed for having his license plate frame in a red zone. He explained that many of Oakland’s citizens survive on low wages and have a hard time paying bills when they are ticketed.

Yet not all in attendance were against the new policies.

“We do have a budget crisis right now,” said Carrie Harvilla. “There are services that are benefiting everyone that we need to save. So if this is one way that we can do it, I’m in support of it.”

Harvilla also said she felt those opposed to the parking restrictions were short-sighted. She said studies have shown that decreased car traffic leads to increased foot traffic and that pedestrians are more likely to stop in shops along the way and spend their money.

Jonathan Bair, (hyperlink to his site!) a marketing consultant and Chair of Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, urged council members to reject the proposal.

“Free parking doesn’t actually help businesses,” Bair told the council. “Please come back in the fall with data and not overheated rhetoric.”

Council members are expected to revisit the issue and reach a decision on whether to roll back the metering hours to 7 p.m. at their Oct. 6 meeting.