Christie Weir (Ventura Council Member) comes in my store and goes, 'Oh I noticed you are in favor of the parking meters. Do you want to be part of our thing?' and I said, 'NO, and I'm Not in favor of the meters'....for some reason she thought I was in favor.... just because I had gone to some Downtown Ventura Organization (DVO) meeting at one time......." said Steve Tobey, owner of We Olive, a downtown Ventura Business, struggling with significant revenue losses due to the effect of Ventura's failing newly-installed parking meter program, activated Sept. 14.
Tobey said, "Yeah, I remember when they came by to say they were doing their whole little Ad Campaign, to sell to me." The DVO, made up primarily of downtown property owners, is in support of the meter program; however the program is opposed by a significant majority of downtown merchants, including Tobey and many others, who agree that the DVO, with the city, has rallied against retail shops to support and market the their ill-conceived meter program. The Chair for the DVO is Dave Armstrong, an architect with "experience" (conflict of interest) in city planning. (more info. www.downtownventura.org/dvo-board.asp)
Ventura property and business owner Randall Richman, however has started a Petition to Remove the Meters (www.removethemeters.com) and said, "The city doesn't support business down here. They don't get it. This is Ventura-Village, but it feels like a police state now. It used to be really kind of mellow and laid back here. Ventura is not West Hollywood. We don't want paid parking on the streets. It's that simple. It's inconvenient and it's unnecessary. "I'd like to know who signed off on this... was it the City Manager Rick Cole or someone in the administration of City Hall....? They should be fired - removed. And there are only two council members who voted against installing the parking meters. That was Neal Andrews and Jim Monahan, which means there are going to be three council members up for re-election next year; Christie Weir, Bill Fulton (Mayor), and Carl Morehouse, and they all VOTED "Yes" to Support the Parking Meter Program."
Gary Parker, owner of American Flags & Cutlery, and also a Vietnam Veteran (Seebeas E4) said, "I know that on the 14th my business dropped, I’m down 33 percent..... so that means one of two things, it's either the economy, or the meters... they're going to eventually destroy the downtown shopping people so it's a real problem. I am sixty-three and I'm going, 'What the Hell is Going On?'" It's been estimated that costs to Ventura for the Meter Program, with the hardware, additional personnel and administrative infrastructures, so far is approaching $1.5 million. It is also estimated this amount could have been used to purchase approximately 1,500 parking spaces, by building a double decker parking lot. Hauntingly this is all beginning to sound like the economically failed Red-Flex ticket camera fiasco, still operating in the red.
According to many other Ventura Merchants, at least 90 percent of whom are against the meters, business is also down over 30 percent for them (some say as high as 90 percent), with many small businesses already looking at vacating their leases and closing their doors altogether. If that happens, this could add significantly to the already numerous vacant storefronts lining Main Street, resulting in another huge sales-tax-revenue collapse; and more financial catastrophe to the city.
But look at it from the city's viewpoint; there will probably be plenty of police on the streets in the downtown area, even if they are just chasing tumbleweeds and a few parked cars. The city had tried to initiate a parking meter program at least twice, a few decades ago. The programs failed miserably and were discontinued, again reaping significant financial losses to Ventura. Said Richman, "This was the absolute worst time the city could put in more fees and more taxes - in a recession - because there are businesses that are just getting by and this may put them out of business altogether."
The current "ghost town" effect, due to the new meter program, has shocked the already struggling economy of the downtown area. Many businesses are already right on the edge and the effect of the new meter program will likely push many more off the cliff. Since the late 1980s and early 90s, when Ventura embarked on their ambitious redevelopment revenue-driven plan to generate "extra" tax revenues from merchants, many retail rents skyrocketed in the area. With Rents often tripling this caused many stores to be pushed out of town and out of business. After the good paying tenants left because they could not afford the new astronomical rents, storefronts have been left empty up and down the street, often for well over a year or even two, resulting in further extended sales tax revenue losses to the city.
Flying in the face of longtime and established small businesses, the city has also been openly solicitous of the out-of-town big box chain stores (witness American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Buffalo Exchange, Starbucks, etc.) which siphon more 'local' cash from the already stricken area. As city redevelopment schemes escalated beginning in the mid 90s, the city's grandiose policies overtly discouraged many "Mom and Pop" businesses.
With the meter program, yet another nail in the coffin was hammered into the ghostly downtown Ventura area economy. Surely Ventura's ineffective council members should be aware of the numerous closed businesses lining Main Street, especially in the downtown area, hardest hit by the ongoing recession and with already extremely low consumer confidence.
Said Richman, "The city says it's not about revenue enhancement, but it really is because they project how much it costs, how much it will return.... and that's what their attitude is... Not only could it be a big loser where folks don't want to hassle with the meters, but what you lose in Sales Tax is significant..... down now at over 30 percent.... most everyone I talk to is affected. "And we seem to be losing 'the cool' in exchange we are becoming like Watermark-town or something.... We may, in fact, become a blighted and deserted town, when actually what we are is a Surftown.... eventually they will want to put meters at Pierpont, the Avenue, Mid-town, The Mall, the East End and the Foothills...all the rest. "The city is just not with it as far as providing adequate parking for the amount of development that they are adding down there," said Richman.
A "Parking Meter Meeting" was held Wed., Oct. 20 at the Foster Library. In addition to the huge and determined number of Merchants and Citizens, both Ventura Mayor Bill Fulton and council member Christie Weir tried to put on a good face, but were non-committal in response to merchants like Gary Parker who asked for a moratorium, during the coming holiday season only or even six months which would suspend the financially damaging meter program.
The Star Free Press reported Oct. 21 that only a dozen merchants spoke out; however over 50 merchants were present at the meeting and many more citizens (up to 35) wished to speak, however were not granted the opportunity by Fulton or Weir.
Citizens and Council Member Neal Andrews is considering placing a "Policy Change Consideration Request" on the Nov. 8 or 15th Ventura City Council Meeting agenda. The request could ask that the meters be shut down for further consideration, and possibly lead to selling the equipment back to the company that sold them to the city in the first place.
The timing of the meeting, scheduled during business hours; beginning at 8:30am on the business weekday, was just as bad as the timing of the Meter Program itself. Many business owners were conveniently unable to attend during the time selected; normal business hours of operation.
Weir also said that in the past public meetings had been held to present the city's plan to install meters, but that the city was unable to "reach merchants" for public input do to inadequate city hall email lists. Many merchants strongly disputed Weir's claim that adequate public meeting notice had been maintained. Most agree that the city would have failed at any rate to recognize the overwhelming consensus against the meter program among citizens and merchants; that the financially struggling city would have moved ahead aggressively, steamrolling as they have right over any opposition to their Parking Meter Plan. Public Safety is now also in question in the downtown area, as waitresses and barkeeps who are already suffering reduced wages, are having to walk alone often unattended for blocks late at night to get to their parked vehicles and head home.
Few support the Meters. Those who do, however, are made up primarily of people moved here from LA or other fast-paced big cities and are used to high-density parking fee situations, or those already targeted by the cities expensive meter marketing campaign.
Polling a downtown business, one employee said, "I think it's good, the people that want to shop and need to get something real quick, instead of mosey around....they can just jump out of the car and come park and grab lunch, bring business..... some people that can come in during lunch breaks and get a haircut real quick....I think it's really not bad if you really think about it.....it's not like you're having to pay $7 to park like when I lived in Santa Monica..... I'm used to paying for parking when I went to work for $7 a day....parking, compared to here? I mean if you know where to park, it's perfectly fine," said Celtic Carma Salon Stylist Maycie Oiampetchakul.
One of the merchants asked Fulton and Weir if the city knew yet that it had made a big mistake. The city officials failed to respond to the question from the citizen. The meeting lasted until around 10:45am as disappointed merchants emptied out onto Main Street in front of the library. The loads of empty spaces were a sad and unproductive sight reaching down the street during what should have been a bustling workday morning; as the frustrated merchants headed back to their quiet little stores.
- Joel Anderson, editor