On October 14, Salem’s councilors voted to adopt the “No Parking Meter” initiative petition that was signed by about 6,000 Salem residents and 3,000 area residents this summer.

The initiative went into effect immediately on the morning of October 15, meaning that nearly every parking spot on downtown streets is now free for an unlimited time for customers.  The initiative was designed to address the long-time frustrations of downtown visitors, who for several years now have had to move their cars every two hours or risk a fine.

The petition was started by local businesspeople and supported by more than 35 downtown businesses who promoted it to their customers.  Its language also limits increases to the taxes these businesses pay, and city staff estimates that adoption will reduce General Fund revenues by about $112,000 per year.

The initiative was presented and backed by Ward 1 Councilor Chuck Bennett and Salem Mayor Anna Peterson, primarily because, as Bennett expressed it, “it represents the will of our constituency.”
“I’m moving this,” Bennett told the assembled council, “because it’s important to recognize a highly successful drive… 9,000 of our fellow citizens and shoppers say they want this.”

Peterson said she would “add her voice to Councilor Bennett’s” but asked that downtown businesses “really make this work by encouraging their employees not to park on the street.”

Peterson was referring to the language that prohibits downtown employees from using the free street parking, something that is difficult to enforce.

The theme was picked up by several councilors, who worried that employees who work downtown, as well as jurors serving on trials at the courthouse, would now be at liberty to park all day in street spots.

Urban Development Director John Wales admitted that enforcement would be “more time consuming” and “more labor intensive” than conventional meter or time-limit enforcement.   In the case of employee infraction, an officer must “see and identify the person parking, and then see them working that day.”

Ward 8 Councilor Dan Clem added concerns about volunteers, since volunteers are also prohibited from using the downtown street spaces.  “If employee parking is difficult to ascertain,” he said, “how do we identify volunteers?  They don’t wear badges… It’s tough to see people park and follow them.  It’s weird, isn’t it?”

Petition proponents point out that it has always been illegal for employees, volunteers and students to park in downtown street stalls meant for customers.

“The heart of the program,” Peterson said, “will be for all 500 downtown businesses to tell their employees, ‘No parking on the street.  This has to end.’”

Bennett encouraged the City to do its utmost.  He said the initiative represented “a new challenge… but we should do absolutely everything we can to make sure it works.”

Ward 7 Councilor Bednarz objected, saying the new rule would “send downtown into a real trizzy about how to maintain its viability.”  He mentioned his service as chair of the committee several years ago which “struggled and came up with the 2-hour limits” and that this was “still the best solution.”

But a Council vote to support the petition, according to Bennett, was a nod to the thousands who signed the petition and “an opportunity to see if this particular approach works.  The 2-hour limit moved people around all right, but it just made them mad.”

The petition initiative passed, with Councilors Nanke of Ward 3 and Clem Ward 8 objecting.