OAKLAND — The uproar over the city's move to extend meter hours and raise parking rates will come to a head this evening as the City Council will meet to consider scaling back meter enforcement and to begin hashing out a long-term parking policy.
Opponents of the changes the council made June 30 are promising to crowd the chamber and demand — at minimum — meter enforcement be rolled back from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Jennie Ong, executive director of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, is among those who say the extended meter hours are hurting customer traffic in the city's business districts.
"For decades the Chinatown chamber has brought thousands of customers to Oakland," she said. "Our work is being undone because of what the city did."
The council voted June 30 to adopt a number of new policies — including extending enforcement hours, increasing the hourly parking rate from $1.50 to $2, increasing fines for certain violations and beefing up parking-enforcement personnel — to help fill what was an $83 million deficit.
Both council members and business figures have said the onslaught of changes — combined with a lack of notice about them — left people feeling like the city was preying upon them.
Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) proposed rolling back meter enforcement from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m.
One idea she has to fill the estimated $1.3 million it could cost to do so: crack down on people who illegally use disabled parking placards to park for free. Other council members are likely to propose their own ideas — and some are skeptical Kernighan's plan could yield anywhere near $1.3 million.
Kernighan stressed she has no intentions of penalizing people who are legitimately using disabled parking placards. But in a memo to her colleagues, she said two council aides recently counted 100 cars with disabled placards in five square blocks around City Hall.
"We've had a lot of people complain about it," Kernighan said. "It ends up taking so many parking spaces that even people who want to pay for a spot cannot find one."
Kernighan and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) both said the city needs to start working on a comprehensive parking study to help officials make more informed decisions in the future.
"We need to do that evaluation," Kaplan said. "We need to actually look at the parking patterns. What I think a real study would actually recommend is different rates at different hours for different parts of the city."
As it is now, some are taking a hard line against all of the changes. No one has been more vocal than Allen Michaan, who owns the Grand Lake Theater.
"The point I keep trying to make to them, and that they just don't understand, is that they're losing money by doing this," he said. "What they're doing is they're killing off the business base."
Rolling back meter hours won't be enough to satisfy Michaan, who said council members should be recalled unless they also set parking rates at 50 cents an hour, end aggressive ticketing, forgive all tickets issued since July 1 and issue an apology. Michaan said about 10,000 people have signed his "Rescind or Recall" petitions.
Others seem more willing to compromise. Council President Jane Brunner (North Oakland) met with a group of merchants Monday afternoon who, she said, offered ways to reduce enforcement hours without hitting city services that have already been hammered by budget cuts.
Some of those proposals include raising fees for residential permit parking, installing meters in commercial areas that don't already have them and charging a flat fee for overnight parking in some city garages.
Ong, the Chinatown chamber director, said: "We do understand the city is in a deep deficit. "... We're not happy with the (increased rates) either, but I think we can live with them — but only until 6 p.m."
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.
The City Council meets at 6 p.m. today at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland. Council members will consider scaling back parking meter enforcement in the face of strong public outcry and ongoing budget difficulties.