A plan to start charging for parking from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at two busy downtown lots took a bit of a detour at Tuesday night’s Kirkland City Council meeting, receiving a hostile reaction from members of the public and expressions of concern by three council members.
Ultimately, the council advised the city’s Parking Advisory Board to move ahead with a public outreach effort on its plan. But it told the board to continue seeking feedback on the plan, as opposed to the board’s recommendation that the outreach be more of an explanatory effort.
“I have some serious reservations,” said Councilmember Penny Sweet, who operates a adjacent to one of the lots. “My store and others like it cannot afford to lose one customer. It’s the negative feedback that concerns me.”
The pay parking plan is designed to help relieve the tight parking situation downtown, which has been an issue for decades and gets especially bad on weekends and in summer. It is also designed to raise money to acquire more parking space and to maintain and improve the public parking garage underneath the .
The city owns the two lots, one at Lakeshore Plaza/ and the other on the corner of Lake Street and Central Way, as well as the library garage. Currently drivers must pay at the two lots in question only after 5 p.m., at $1 per hour. The proposal would expand that to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., at the same rate. Many people believe the parking system and machines used to pay are confusing. Another major issue is that employees of downtown stores use the free parking, leaving too few spaces available for the public, even though space is reserved for them in the library garage.
Former Councilmember Jessica Greenway, testifying as “a concerned citizen,” said she had surveyed 20 downtown business owners for a study she had started while she was on the council, and 90 percent of them “said this plan will hurt their businesses.”
She said she is opposed to pay parking at all in a suburban setting. “I will walk in rain, sleet and snow before I will pay for parking. You need to hear from and listen to your constituents,” she said. “This will drive customers away. Downtown businesses will suffer.”
Kirkland resident Bea Nahon said the city has collected no data on the impact of the parking shortage on businesses, or on how many spaces are being used by downtown employees.
“If this is a parking enforcement issue, then that is what we need to solve,” she said. “How can it be responsible and prudent to move forward without data on the impact on businesses? Downtown Kirkland is recovering, but it is fragile. Why throw this into the mix when this recovery is so fragile?”
Parking Advisory Board Chairman Suraphong “A” Liengboonlertchai, operator of a home decor shop on Park Lane and , said the board had already surveyed downtown businesses and reached out to the Chamber of Commerce.
“We talked to 120 businesses. A handful of people believed it will drive people away,” he said. “Most believe it is the best way to help resolve the problem and confusion.”
He said a chamber committee supported the board’s recommendation, if the revenue raised went to acquire more parking space. “We want to see this community be a place that welcomes visitors,” he said. “People do not like change in general, especially those that involve money in their pockets. (But) pay parking is the best solution for the problems and confusion we are facing right now.”
However, Jeff Marshall, who operates a gift ship on Central Way downtown, said pay parking will drive his customers to Redmond and Bellevue. He said the city should simply adopt an ordinance prohibiting business employees from parking in the downtown core. “Our customers basically have told us they will not pay for parking," he said. “You will drive customers away and there will be more ghost shops in downtown Kirkland.”
Councilmember Sweet and Bob Sternoff expressed serious concern about the plan, as well as Deputy Mayor Doreen Marchione. Councilmembers Dave Asher and Amy Walen supported the board’s recommendation.
Mayor Joan McBride, who has expressed support for all-day pay parking, agreed that more feedback from the public was necessary, and cautioned city staff and the Parking Advisory Board that any decision could take longer than the recommended action by April 17.
“We need to know people are comfortable with this” she said. “I think we need a little more information.”
The council also advised city staff and the board to go ahead and designate 50 stalls in the library garage as “float” parking, for both public use and/or employee permit use on a first-come, first-served basis. The goal is to allow public parking in stalls often not used by downtown business employees.
For details on the Parking Advisory Board proposal, see the attached PDF file.