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The story behind the parking story
Jack Balshaw 9/4/2002

There have been a number of stories lately about downtown Petaluma, its problems and its opportunities. But behind each of these stories there is another story (or stories) that's not brought out. Let's start with the parking downtown.

There are at least five stories here. First, the parking garage. This has been the subject of much comment about late night partying and vandalism. It seems strange to me that, with only four stairways down from the upper floors, our police and hired security personnel can't occasionally and randomly herd everyone hanging out there to the top floor and issue citations.

To issue such citations, the City Council would have to pass an ordinance prohibiting being in the garage either after a certain hour and/or if the person didn't have a vehicle parked there at the time. Our council however, is ever reluctant to take any action that might make any group unhappy.

Then again, the City Council could authorize video cameras (real and decoy) in the garage to record unlawful activities. This wouldn't have to be real time police surveillance, only tapes that could be viewed IF vandalism or other improprieties had occurred. Unfortunately our council is against video surveillance - even in public places with a crime and safety history - on the basis of invasion of privacy. But, they've never asked garage users how they feel about it.

This carries over to areas such as Putnam Plaza. The council encourages individual storeowners to utilize video cameras but won't do so themselves. Or course, this subjects the individual storeowners to retribution from undesirable plaza users. But that's of no concern to the council; they've kept their ideology clean.

Let me mention a procedure I tried unsuccessfully to get adopted when I was still on the council. Every time I crossed Petaluma Blvd. downtown, I would enter the parking garage and drive to the top and back down. You might call it a casual, unofficial patrol. If every city hall employee, police officer, Water Dept, Engineering Dept and other city employee did this, there would be continuous and random official eyes watching the garage. But that's inconvenient.

Then there is the lack of parking downtown, especially on weekends when we are encouraging tourists to visit. Part of the problem is that merchants don't effectively discourage their employees from taking up street parking. These employees are allowed to leave work to either move their cars or to wipe off the traffic enforcement chalk marks. On Sundays they don't even have to do that. This not only defeats the purpose of limited time parking but is stupid for businesses catering to the public.

Then there are the under used (reserved) parking spaces in the "A" Street lot. Many spots in this lot are reserved for office tenants of the McNear building. This makes sense during the week but not on weekends. The city should look into negotiating the right to use these spots evenings and weekends. It would be less expensive than creating the same number of new parking spots.

Finally, there's the issue of removing some parking on Water Street. The council will probably do this, but without taking any responsibility for finding replacement parking. This, tied in with the termination of parking at the Mill lot, will cause even more problems downtown. Strange how these progressive visionaries always want to consider the whole system when the environment is concerned or when they want to stop something but are willing to act piecemeal on all other things.

Much can be done to improve the parking situation in downtown, but not as long as merchants and city officials refuse to consider doing anything different. A favorite saying of mine is, "As long as you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've got." Strange that our progressive leadership seems to avoid progress.


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