Downtown parking law needs tweak

The goal should be to keep cars moving, not to trick drivers.

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The city of Walla Walla's downtown parking ordinance as written -- and as now being enforced -- is flawed. It is not serving the purpose intended.

The two-hour parking limit was originally aimed at keeping traffic moving so there will be ample parking for shoppers.

Let's face it, without the two-hour limit a lot of folks who work downtown would leave their cars parked all day as close as possible to their place of employment. This would make it more difficult for shoppers, whether locals or tourists, to find places to park when shopping downtown.

Most folks, including us, figured the parking ordinance was pretty simple. If you park on Main Street in front of Macy's at 9 a.m. you have until 11 a.m. to move your car. Seemed reasonable.

But now we learn from a story in Sunday's paper by U-B reporter Alfred Diaz that the city has decided to enforce the parking ordinance to the letter of the law. No longer are chalk marks being used. Instead, the parking enforcement officer now jots down license plates to determine when a car is parked.

As a result, employees, shoppers and visitors have been surprised to find parking tickets on their vehicles.

The parking officer is using this method of tracking vehicles to enforce the continuous aspect of the parking ordinance. What most people don't realize, Diaz reported, is the daily parking period begins and ends two hours from when you first parked your vehicle in a particular block, regardless of how long it was actually parked there. Here is the example cited:

Let's say you park in front of 21 E. Main at 9 a.m. to pick up a cup of coffee and pastry. Then you head out at 9:10 a.m. Later you decide to come back for lunch at noon. However, your right to park the same vehicle on the same block ended at 11 a.m. that same day. If you return for lunch at noon and park on the same block, you could get a ticket, even though you only parked a total of 10 minutes.

That's just plain wrong. It's also likely to discourage -- rather than encourage -- people to shop downtown.

Capt. Gary Bainter said he has gotten complaints and arguments. In one situation he told Diaz about, a couple who share a vehicle received a ticket. The husband had come to town earlier in the morning, then the wife came later in the same vehicle and parked on the same block. She got the ticket.

Parking is not so tight in downtown Walla Walla that the city needs to take this approach. Yes, sometimes downtown visitors have to drive around the block two or three times to find a space or even -- gasp! -- have to walk a few blocks to get to a store.

This situation is a concern, not a crisis.

Now, to be fair to the current parking enforcement officer, the law is simply being enforced as written. And it is the way her supervisors want her to do her job.

It's time to tweak the law so it more closely matches the way the parking law has been enforced for decades. Parking enforcement should not be a game of "gotcha."

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