Vancouver City Council

Vancouver City Council (COUV.COM file image)

The future of Vancouver’s downtown parking system was the focus of Monday’s City Council workshop during which council members discussed the importance of maintaining on-street parking for visitors and business patrons.

The council heard from the Parking Services Department to gain perspective on the city’s parking situation and to look at future parking needs.

Parking officials said Vancouver’s city center development plan calls for an additional 15,000 parking stalls to be added over the next 20 to 25 years. The officials said adding that parking capacity could cost nearly $500 million, but said there are several ways for the city to work with existing capacity to mitigate that cost.

Part of the parking officials’ suggestion is for the city to maintain a priority on short-term parking for visitors and business patrons and to put more reliance on private developers to maintain long-term parking areas for employees and commuters.

The officials said Vancouver has a successful history of using parking policy as an economic development tool and that a recent survey found that shot-term parking patrons are the highest priority.

Vancouver’s parking system is undergoing changes as the city relocates offices to the new City Hall building and vacates leased property around downtown. That move will remove the surface parking lots at the Esther Short Building and CVTV building from the parking system and mean more parking activity near the new City Hall building. The Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Project would also cause additional changes to the parking system.

Parking officials also suggested the city adjust permit and meter prices at regular intervals to reflect the Consumer Price Index.

The officials asked the council for informal general feedback on parking issues.

Councilwoman Jeanne Harris said she sees parking garages as capital investments that the city should invest in, but suggested private groups might better manage the garages. Harris also said surface parking is a waste of space.

Councilwoman Jeanne Stewart said she thinks short-term parking is important and that off-street parking options are constrained now and should be addressed. Stewart also said property developers should share the parking burden.

Councilman Larry Smith said the council should keep the CRC and waterfront development projects in mind when discussing parking, because those projects might require being flexible with parking plans.

In response to Councilman Jack Burkman’s concern over general fund money potentially going to support the city’s parking priorities, parking officials said the city could turn over some of its commuter parking facilities to focus more on short-term parking priorities. Burkman said the city might want to revisit its parking assets and strategy in the future.

Councilman Hansen said parking is a big concern for businesses and that the city should look to expand its free 20-minute metered spaces to 30 or 40 free minutes.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said as the economy turns around, the city could have a chance to partner with property developers on parking projects. The mayor suggested further analysis of the city’s parking assets be done. The mayor specifically asked for follow-up on how construction of three CRC transit related parking garages would impact the parking system.

Overview of council retreat

Later, during a brief regular council meeting the mayor provided an overview of the council’s retreat held last Friday.

During the retreat city staff led the council through an overview of the city’s budget and said it is on track with a solid footing for debt repayment and a good credit rating.

Leavitt said the city is now at 1998 staffing levels with a population more than 24,000 people above 1998 levels.  He said the city continues work to be more efficient in its operations.

During the retreat, the council said it won’t support taxes for new operating revenues, but would continue to work on efficiency instead. Leavitt said the council told the city manager to explore revenue options for capital needs in 2012.  He said the capital improvements would support things like fire stations.

For transportation infrastructure, the mayor said the city could implement license tab fees. The council has asked the city manager to bring a recommendation to council on using these fees.