WALLA WALLA - With more than 2,200 employees each day vying for the 1,264 parking spaces available, it is understandable that downtown has a parking problem.
But that's the norm for viable Main Streets across Washington, said Downtown Walla Walla Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini.
The real dilemma Agostini faces is which of several solutions recently submitted by a foundation parking committee is the best idea to solve the parking problem. Among the possible solutions is the touchy subject of parking meters.
"That is a long way down the road - considering metered parking - in other words we would have to do these (other) things and see the results of them before we would even consider doing the meters," Agostini said.
Earlier this summer, a Downtown Walla Walla Foundation parking committee submitted a report of possible parking solutions. Among those solutions were better signage to free all-day parking lots, fixing lighting and landscape on those free lots to increase safety and appeal, using buses to carry people to and from larger free lots, building a parking structure and helping employers to encourage their employees not to park all day on Main Street, by shuffling their vehicles to a new space every two hours.
Agostini noted that the two largest employers - Banner Bank and Baker-Boyer Bank - already encourage and, to a degree, police their employees' parking habits to keep them from parking on Main Street. Still, he noted you can tell when it's Columbus Day or Veteran's Day, which are holidays that banks and government employees take off, while for the rest of the world it is business as usual.
"Banner Bank and Baker-Boyer, when they are closed we don't have parking problems, not always but generally," Agostini said.
In those bank employees' defense, Agostini noted they also shop and eat downtown.
"When people complain about Banner Bank and Baker-Boyer Bank, we say wait a minute. They are shoppers downtown and they have to have a place to park. So I don't want to come down hard on those people," he said.
But one of the solutions Agostini is seriously considering is to come down hard on people who break parking ordinances.
Agostini said that while he preferred to keep the first-time parking tickets at $5, he also favored doubling the fines on repeat offenders in a 30-day period, who now pay $15, $25 and $50 for second, third and fourth offenses.
But Agostini is quick to point out that raising fines might help, but it won't solve the problem.
"Raising the fines is not the answer when there are not enough parking spots in the first place. We know that a parking complex is the answer, but who has got the money?" he said.
It would take millions. And though the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation doesn't have the money, Agostini said he does have a location picked out. He noted that studies show people don't want to walk more than three blocks from a parking structure to their destination. And the closer the structure is to the core of activity, the greater potential for success of that structure.
For Agostini, that would mean right behind Macy's on the current city lot that is accessible from Alder Street.
"You got to put it where most people go. And where most people go to is Macy's. And the parking lot behind Macy's is already the city's," he said.
Finally, there is that other solution that weighs in heavily on the current parking report that Agostini is hesitant to release to board members or the media - bringing back parking meters.
"When this (the report) comes in front of the board, I am sure the board will say, ‘No more on the meter stuff Elio,'" Agostini said.