City Hall Hustle: Feeding the Meter

Pay parking opponents get AAMPED, and historic abatements return

Opponents warned that Kathie Tovo would turn the clock back on Austin. Now she is – all the way back to March. That was when City Council passed changes to pay parking hours, extending the current 8:30am-5:30pm, Monday-Friday payment period to last until midnight Downtown. Now comes word that the frosh council member and ally Laura Morrison – the only member to dissent on the admittedly unpopular change – will push to delay the pay parking expansion.

News that the change might be revisited came to the Hustle's attention via Austinites Against Metered Parking Extension Downtown, a new group opposing the change. In a press release, the group announced it "has secured the promises of Council Member Laura Morrison and newly elected Council Member Kathie Tovo, to cosponsor an agenda item to repeal, modify, or delay the meter extension ordinance."

Tovo tells us AAMPED has it right, mostly. "Laura Morrison and I are exploring the possibility of bringing forward a resolution to delay implementation of the parking changes until we can have a fuller public discussion, with Downtown workers and others we feel will be negatively impacted by the extension of parking hours," she says. "I believe that earlier decision was made without a full public discussion." The item's since been posted on council's July 28 draft agenda.

While Tovo noted the AAMPED press release possibly "overstated" the resolution she and Morrison were planning – saying they weren't pushing an outright repeal, but rather "to have that public discussion" – Tovo tells us she personally supports a full repeal of the extension. "Laura Morrison, as you know, voted against it, and I said on the campaign trail, I would have voted against it also," Tovo says.

But seeing as one of Tovo's campaign tropes was supporting neighborhood resources like public parks and pools, is forgoing the additional revenue generated by expanded parking hours – some $3.1 million annually, by city estimates – ultimately self-defeating? "I think that's one important consideration," Tovo says. However, she adds: "One of the things I heard on the campaign trail, in discussion with AAMPED, and through outreach with Downtown workers, musicians, and others who are low-wage workers, is that they are concerned where the money would be coming from. ... They're an important segment of the community, and they will be negatively impacted; we should not add an additional financial burden on them."

Of course, no one likes paying for things that were once free – even if they never should have been. As Donald C. Shoup – who literally wrote the book on the subject, The High Cost of Free Parking – writes in that tome: "If drivers don't pay for parking, who does? Everyone does, even if they don't drive. Initially the developer pays for the required parking, but soon the tenants do, and then their customers, and so on, until the cost of parking has diffused everywhere in the economy. ... We don't pay for parking in our role as motorists, but in all our other roles – as consumers, investors, workers, residents, and taxpayers – we pay a high price. Even people who don't own a car have to pay for 'free' parking." Yet another way to look at it: Taxpayers are being silently required to subsidize Downtown businesses that decline to provide parking for their employees or to pay them sufficiently to purchase it – and "subsidies" to businesses are now officially a bad idea on council, yes?

In terms of political expense, you can't imagine those five "yea" votes on council relish the prospect of reaffirming the parking change – even if it's sound city policy. One also wonders what cost Tovo's oppositional votes (on Formula One and convention center hotel incentives) and initiatives will exact on her working relationships with other members.

Not that this 134-item, post-hiatus draft agenda is wanting for resolutions – another notable item is the repeatedly delayed return of revisions to the city's tax abatement program for historically designated properties.

The item maintains previous revisions capping property tax exemptions for owner-occupied historic homes at $2,500. However, in an apparent concession to the parties that sued to stop the abatement program, the draft resolution calls for an "ordinance that revises the historic landmark application process to require a more stringent review of applications and ensure that all necessary research has been completed before an application is considered by the Historic Landmark Commission." It also calls to "enhance the inspection of historic landmark properties to strengthen the enforcement of criteria and maintenance requirements" with new potential fees in order to offset these costs and other initiatives, including an "assistance program to better enable the rehabilitation of historic structures in underrepresented areas." Lastly, it acknowledges the gatekeeper role of the city (its bestowal of historic status can mean school and county property tax cuts), as the resolution "directs the City Manager to initiate a dialogue with other taxing entities within the City of Austin to discuss the ongoing revisions to the historic preservation program and encourage their continued participation."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Kahtie Tovo, City Council, Pay Parking, Historic Tax Abatements, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison, AAMPED, Historic Landmark Commission

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