New Orleans City Council members largely oppose the city's plan to increase downtown parking meter fares.
New Orleans service workers have criticized the city's plans to increase parking meter rates — doubling them downtown — and expanding times as a slight to the service industry. In this week's Gambit cover story
, the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) called it "an attack on the service industry workers who serve us."
Those complaints (which included a petition that gathered more than 1,300 signatures
) made their way to the New Orleans City Council, which asked city officials and the Department of Public Works (DPW) why the rate hike is necessary. "Look at the uniqueness of areas you’re talking about," said Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, whose District C covers the French Quarter. "A lot of our workers use that for parking ... It’s not people who are coming down with extra income to shop or go to restaurants."
Downtown meter rates were raised in 2010 from $1.25 per hour to $1.50. In 2016, the city plans to raise rates and extend hours in spots from Mississippi River to Claiborne Avenue and from the Pontchartrain Expressway to Elysian Fields Avenue. Rates will double from $1.50 an hour to $3 an hour, and meter times will extend from ending at 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The change is expected to bring in several million dollars to the city's general fund.
Deputy mayors Cedric Grant and Andy Kopplin, as well as DPW Director Mark Jernigan, said it's a matter of supply and demand. Speaking at the DPW's budget hearing Nov. 11, Kopplin said those spaces are "a finite and valuable resource" that are meant in part to create turnover for businesses. Grant said the city has lost 1,000 parking spots over the last five years with the construction of every apartment, restaurant and hotel. "We’re at this tension point of use of curb space and use of public right of way," he said. "We’re at capacity ... It’s not as much revenue as it is a public safety measure to keep traffic moving."
"What happens is that folks want that $1.50 spot," Kopplin said. "They circle until they find one."
Kopplin said 60 percent of the tickets issued for parking are to out-of-town drivers, and that "far and away the vast majority of folks in the tourism industry are not utilizing on-street parking as it is currently." Kopplin said the city should focus on RTA affordability and accessibility, as well as meeting the living wage.
"I’m not a fan of the proposal," said District D Councilmember Jared Brossett. "As a government who are trying to assist the working class and working people, this hits them."
District A Councilmember Susan Guidry said the rate increase "sounds premature and not well thought out."
"I'm not in favor of it at all, have been from the start," said District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell. She asked why the Downtown Development District (DDD) and the New Orleans Convention Center weren't consulted in the rate increases. At budget hearings this week, RTA officials also said they weren't consulted about the plan in relation to more transportation access; DDD officials said they would favor some kind of varied parking option based on demand at the time. Kopplin said he understood that DDD was aware of the plan.
Chris Lane, who helped put together New Orleans Citizens for Fair Parking, said the rate hikes will contribute to a decrease in public safety as downtown workers, cash in pocket, will have to walk further away from their jobs to get to their cars. He also said the city has put too much focus on the spaces as taxable commodities rather than public spaces. “These are public spaces we pay for with millages, with taxes, with bonding issues," he said." They are not commodities.”
Other opponents speaking at the hearing included Cane & Table owner Nick Detrich, Latitude 29 general manager Steve Yamada and Three Muses general manager Kimberly Patton-Bragg, who said if staff parks on the street before 10 p.m., they'll have to feed the meter during their shift. "If you’re waiting for dessert, you know why," she said.
Danielle Leger with the Louisiana Restaurant Association said an average full-time worker downtown parking at a public meter will see an increase in parking fees of up to $3,000 a year, creating "an even more intense barrier to succeed." Leger warned the city not to "balance the city budget on the backs of service industry workers."
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and DPW have authority, under current city ordinances, to raise meter rates without the City Council's approval.