Downtown New Orleans service workers — from cooks and servers to musicians, bartenders and retail staff — oppose the city's plan to increase parking meter fees, and a majority of the New Orleans City Council agrees.
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 the 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 plan — outlined in Gambit's Nov. 10 cover story — is expected to add several million dollars to the city's general fund. Landrieu and the Department of Public Works have authority to raise meter rates up to $3.75 an hour without approval from the City Council — but councilmembers could introduce an ordinance to cap those hikes.
New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) president Stephen Perry calls the city's plan "an attack on the service industry workers who serve us."
On Nov. 11, the City Council 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 Councilwoman 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."
Deputy Mayors Cedric Grant and Andy Kopplin, as well as DPW Director Mark Jernigan, said it's a matter of supply and demand. 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 as apartments, restaurants and hotels move in. "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 improving public transportation, as well as meeting the living wage, to prevent street congestion.
"I'm not a fan of the proposal," said District D Councilwoman Jared Brossett. "As a government who are trying to assist the working class and working people, this hits them."
District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry said the rate increase "sounds premature and not well thought out."
"I'm not in favor of it at all, haven't been from the start," said District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell. She asked why the Downtown Development District (DDD) and the New Orleans Convention Center weren't consulted. During budget hearings last week, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority officials 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. 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 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 of the Louisiana Restaurant Association said a full-time downtown worker who uses meters will see an increase in parking fees of up to $3,000 a year. Leger asked the city not to "balance the city budget on the backs of service industry workers."