City's annual fee among the most expensive in U.S.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Northwest Portland residents and shop employees will need to start buying $60 permits in March if they want to park on the street. Officials are hoping that frees up street parking for shoppers.In Phoenix, they’re 10 bucks. In Seattle, $32.50. In Denver, they’re free.

Residential parking permits are about to hit a large swath of Northwest Portland as a result of the Northwest Parking Plan adopted by City Council in December.

Last-minute changes to the plan still have neighborhood advocates on both sides of the issue scrambling to figure out what it all means.

One thing is certain. Sometime around early March, residents between Northwest Burnside and Lovejoy Streets will have to start paying $60 per car to park on the street in front of their homes.

Toss out San Francisco, which requires residents to pony up $104 for each permit, and Portland apparently has the highest-priced annual permits in the country. In Los Angeles, residential parking permits cost $34. In Atlanta, $20; Chicago, $25.

Among the hardest hit will be employers along Northwest 21st and 23rd avenues, who will have to buy $60 permits so their driving employees have places to park when they come to work.

Phil Geffner, who owns Escape From New York Pizza on Northwest 23rd Avenue, says he employs 20 people and he’ll buy the permits for all who request them. That could set him back $1,200 a year. Geffner says it won’t put him out of business, but he hates the new plan.

“It’s going to be wasteful and not help,” he says.

The big picture

Since the first phase of the plan will start the permitting south of Lovejoy and leave free parking on the streets north of Lovejoy, Geffner expects residents to the north to suffer first, as visitors to the neighborhood search for free on-the-street spots there.

“First, it’s going to make it a mess north of Lovejoy, and then it’s going to make a mess all over,” Geffner says.

Ron Walters, president of the Northwest Portland neighborhood association board, says he’s more concerned about the phased-in approach of the new plan. Walters says the board never had a chance to review the last-minute changes, which include a step-by-step implementation. In theory, phase one will have the permits south of Lovejoy, and phases two and three will put them in north of Lovejoy and place parking meters on 21st and 23rd avenues.

But the resolution passed by City Council calls for a new advisory body to be formed to include residents, business owners and advocates for a number of other issues. Every six months, the new Transportation Management Association will look at how the plan is going, and decide whether to continue with the next phases. Or, it could decide to scratch the plan altogether.

“It raises a question,” Walters says. “Every six months are we going to have a new debate on if this is working or not?”

Walters says he’s heard talk already of ways people might scam the program. Much of the impetus for the plan came about because of neighborhood concerns that downtown workers were parking their cars on residential streets all day, making it hard for shoppers to find spaces.

The new parking plan calls for residents to have the option of buying books with $1 one-day guest passes. It’s possible, Walters says, that some residents will buy the books and sell them to commuters.

Walters says some have suggested that a black market could develop for city shared carpool permits, which allow free all-day parking on all city streets. Disability permits also allow free parking everywhere.

Still, Walters says he’s mostly happy the plan was approved by City Council.

“Some people get irate,” he says. “It’s a fairness issue, and they’ll focus on the people trying to get away with that. I’m the opposite of that. Guys, we’ve got a parking problem and let’s get the big picture taken care of.”

Still driving around

Donald Shoup, a UCLA urban planning professor who has consulted for Portland, among other cities, about parking policy, doesn’t take issue with the $60 price tag for a parking spot, but has questions about how the money from those permits is being spent.

“Sixty dollars a year is only 16 cents a day. Isn’t a parking space in Northwest Portland worth that much?” Shoup asks.

Shoup believes that neighborhoods where residents are required to pay to park should be shown good faith by the city, which should split the revenue. According to Dan Anderson, spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the money from the parking permits is needed to fund administration and enforcement of the parking program. There is no money left over to send back to Northwest Portland, Anderson says.

Shoup calls that short-sighted.

“The city should show everyone the benefits of the meter revenue right away,” he says. “All parking is political, and spending the meter revenue for new public investments right away can help with the politics.”

Should phases two and three of the parking plan be instituted, neighborhood residents might be hearing a few extra howls from DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital on Northwest Pettygrove Street. DoveLewis has about 110 employees and most park on the street because the agency’s small parking lot needs to be reserved for clients bringing in pets.

DoveLewis Chief Executive Officer Ron Morgan says the agency has decided it will pay for all its employees who request parking permits. That could run the nonprofit more than $6,000 a year — if the new advisory board doesn’t put a halt to the parking plan’s second phase.

Morgan isn’t happy with what he sees as a parking tax that doesn’t yield benefit for DoveLewis. He was hoping to see more parking capacity as part of the city’s solution.

“Now we have an additional $6,000 cost just to be doing business in Northwest Portland,” Morgan says. “I believe we’re going to pay $6,000 to have the pleasure of still driving around trying to find a parking spot.”

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