Grand Avenue parking process shortchanged the facts

 

Many neighbors are of modest means; meters would discourage locals from shopping. 

By Amanda Karls

October 22, 2015 — 6:11pm

 

Star Tribune

People opposed to parking meters on Grand Avenue made themselves heard at a public meeting Oct 19.

Some of the characterization of my St. Paul neighbors’ dismay over the Grand Avenue parking meter proposal is unfounded. There may be those who think we are complaining about paying a quarter to park while we buy cashmere. At least among the neighbors I know, this is not the case.

We are upset by the lack of process, closed-door politics and a mayor’s office that seems out of touch with the realities of the neighborhood.

I get it. When visitors come to Grand Avenue, they do so to dine, to attend an event or to go boutique shopping. While parking is not usually a problem during weekdays, I know it can be hard to park on a busy Friday evening in July or during Grand Meander. We should solve that problem.

However, in addition to “splurge amenities,” Grand Avenue includes a mix of residential buildings and businesses that serve the basic necessities of life. When I stop on Grand, it may be to buy a loaf of bread or pick up a prescription. Surely, if Mayor Chris Coleman had imposed toll booths along roads leading to Cub or Target, the citizenry’s frustration would not be considered what some have labeled “snobbish.”

I almost never drive to a shop on Grand, turn around and go home. I consider walking to my neighborhood bakery, pharmacy, etc., one of the joys of living in a vibrant urban neighborhood. However, sometimes I am in the car on my way to or from somewhere else, or it is too cold to walk, especially with my young children in tow. So when Coleman articulated that one of his main objectives was to reduce the carbon footprint, I hope you can understand why people who use Grand the way I do were ruffled. We are the ones who keep the avenue running when destination shoppers are few. Taxing us to stop on our route to work or school or on a cold January day when free parking is an alternative elsewhere won’t improve the environment — it will hurt our main street.

And sure, some of us could afford to pay a minimum fee of a dollar several times a week, but who would be happy to do so? Moreover, many of my neighbors will not be able to afford this. We are not all rich. According to recent statistics cited by MNCompass.org, 25 percent of households in the Summit Hill neighborhood have incomes of less than $35,000 per year. In the Summit /University neighborhood — which starts just two blocks north of the affected stretch of Grand — that number jumps to 48 percent.

Not only are fixed incomes a reality for many of my neighbors, but because of this initiative, parking problems are about to become a reality, too. Some owners live in modest condo units and many households do not own at all. In fact, according to MNCompass.org, almost half (47.8 percent) of all households in Summit Hill rent. Unlike areas with newer construction, much of our multifamily housing was built several decades ago without dedicated parking. Where will these residents park? And how will the plan affect seniors, who make up almost 10 percent of the population? Moreover, the mayor’s preliminary proposal includes not only Grand Avenue, but also many residential side streets.

This is not about “paying the piper.” None of the money from the meter initiative is earmarked for Summit Hill — or streets, or the environment for that matter. And no, we do not have “lavish city services.” We have one nonschool public playground; we don’t have a library, and our streets are poorly plowed.

We are not arrogant or crazy. We are frustrated with the lack of engagement of stakeholders. Yes, there were boos at Monday’s forum, but consider that the mayor’s office chose to stifle the vast majority by giving half of the public comment time to the few plan proponents in attendance. When the citizenry is not allowed an open dialogue, when city officials fail to return phone calls or e-mails, and when decisions are made behind closed doors, you can expect people to try to find a way for their officials to hear them.