Parking fee feud masks deeper issues

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When reaction grossly exceeds what most people would consider reasonable based on cause, you know something else is going on.

The tempest in a parking lot that dominated this week’s Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting, as Councilman Dan English wisely concluded, is an example.

Dozens of people spoke out against the city’s benign increase in parking fees, some with scarcely veiled outrage and others with clearly visible tears. But English was hearing something far larger and far different than fury over a dearly departed dollar to park the family truckster within inches of a preferred downtown destination.

“There’s this specific parking issue and the money, but I think a lot of what’s being expressed is bigger than that,” English said. “It’s growth … There is a lot of general anxiety about the growth, and I’m sure all of us feel it. I certainly do.”

Things are changing rapidly all around us, and change isn’t something most people welcome with open arms — especially when much of that change is actually painful or frustrating. Anxiety over growth comes much closer to explaining the Tuesday night outrage than parking fee increases. Let’s look a little deeper.

First, don’t for a minute buy the picture being painted by those portraying Coeur d’Alene as a heartless monster charging single moms and wobbly oldsters their last buck for a parking space that used to be free. Here are key parking facts:

• 1,334 of 2,268 downtown parking spaces (59 percent) have at least 2 hours free parking.

• Of the 1,334, 218 spaces at the east McEuen lot are unlimited free. Parking is free in the 700 onstreet spaces after 6 p.m. weekdays and all day Sundays and holidays.

• 31 percent of all spaces are $1 an hour (McEuen and Memorial Field).

• 5 percent are $2 an hour (112 spaces at the Museum lot)

• 5 percent are $3 an hour May 1 — Sept. 30

• The 93 spaces at Independence Point are $2 an hour Oct. 1 — April 30.

Next, because much of the anger is pointed at city elected officials for allegedly taking advantage of people who want to use downtown parks, keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking fees go directly into maintaining and improving city parks. The parking fees represent an investment in some of the city’s greatest assets, which are open to everyone at no charge.

Further, the city has two ways to raise money to pay for things like its public beaches and pristine parks. One is property taxes, a weight borne by every Coeur d’Alene property owner. The other is user fees, paid by people who take advantage of those beaches and parks. If you live in Spokane or Detroit or Post Falls and you park your car next to McEuen Park, what’s fair? You pay for that privilege or Aunt Dorothy on 16th Street picks up your tab?

Finally, a deeper look must include questions of motive for a Post Falls resident who delights in promoting himself by stirring the parking fee pot. While Keith Boe certainly has a right to express his opinion and encourage others to brandish their indignation similarly, his frequent targeting of Mayor Steve Widmyer in particular can lead to unreasonable reactions. An example found Wednesday on Boe’s North Idaho Life Facebook page, posted by a commenter:

“If the mayors [sic] wife still has a clothing store downtown you should consider protesting outside the front entrance, ditto Widmeyer’s [sic] slumlord rental management business. He’s not listening, drag his family into the discussion, he may listen to them.”

Our community faces challenging growth issues with affordable housing shortfalls, overcrowded schools and public infrastructure needs rapidly outpacing the ability to pay for them. Let’s move past the parking fee controversy and work together on a more meaningful agenda.

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