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Parking crunch raises tensions in Cornelius

Wellness Center lot can't fit staff — just clients

The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius has a five-day-a-week problem: 50 employees, an average of 40 patients a day, students — sometimes up to 20 per class — and other visitors all trying to squeeze into a 38-space parking lot.

The VG center was first formed in Cornelius 39 years ago and now provides a wide range of health care services at facilities across Washington and Yamhill counties, emphasizing care for migrant farm workers and others facing barriers.

Since its new Cornelius Wellness Center opened in 2012, however, the center’s client members have increased — and so has the parking problem.

In an effort to address the issue, VG management directed staff to not use the parking lot and to find parking on nearby streets.

That led to objections from nearby businesses. And the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) filed an unfair labor practice complaint on behalf of employees.

Union representative Becky Steward said their members were told they would face discipline — up to and including dismissal — for using the lot.

“All we want to do is sit down and talk with Virginia Garcia management to see if we can’t come up with a workable solution to the problem,” Steward said. “But so far they have been unwilling to bargain. We’re not opposed to making a change. And we’re not just concerned about our staff having adequate and convenient parking, but patients, too. We’d just like a voice in the process.”

Public Information Officer Olivia MacKenzie said VG wants to be a good neighbor. “This is a complicated issue,” she said. “We’ve talked with the nearby businesses and encouraged our staff to be respectful of the businesses. We’re working on solving the problem. We’d like to find an answer that works for VG patients, our staff, and the businesses. “We’ve also been talking with the city about a tangible solution, and hope this can be solved quickly.”

Cornelius Public Works Director Mark Crowell said Baseline Market, State Farm Insurance and Tommy’s Beauty Salon have all complained about the lack of parking for customers.

“The market says his customers want to park in front or close by for five to 10 minutes for a pack of cigarettes, a loaf of bread and some milk. If there isn’t anyplace to park, he says they go to another convenience store,” Crowell said.

“Bunny Girt of State Farm says many of her customers are older and mostly all they want to do is quickly stop by and pay a premium. They don’t want to walk as much as three blocks.”

But the parking problem shouldn’t be as big it seems, said Crowell, who last week counted 38 spaces available within one block of Virginia Garcia.

Add in the VG lot’s 38 spaces and that means there are roughly 76 parking spaces available — not counting the 20 or so spaces in front of active businesses, he said.

Crowell added that he counted another 10 to 15 spaces within two blocks, and even more within three blocks.

“Employees could park and pick up a cup of coffee at Dutch Bros. on their way to work,” he said. “We’d be glad to talk with employees and help them find suitable places to park.”

He understands that people like the convenience of walking just a few feet to their office, but “Hey, this is a health center — they can walk.”

Crowell also said some people had suggested the city post time limits on its public parking. “We don’t have parking regulations, but the police and the city council have been working on some changes to the parking ordinances to see how they would fit with our community. Thirty-minute to hour-long spaces might work to help manage parking in the downtown area.”

Community Development Director Michael Cerbone said the last thing the city wants to do is get into a regulatory mode.

“Our desire is that there would be some common courtesy between patients and downtown employees, and that they’d look for places to park that don’t impact the short-term parkers,” said Cerbone.

“We don’t think we have a parking problem in terms of numbers, and we’d like to see those involved work out the problem themselves.”

For now, said VG’s MacKenzie, most employees seem to be parking on side streets. But it’s hard to tell because there is no official monitoring of the lot.

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