It seems like conversations about parking in Cannon Beach always start too late.
“There is nothing happening at this point,” City Councilor George Vetter said. “The last time I brought this up, other councilors wanted to wait for some kind of initiative from the public and business community.”
Nothing is in the works, Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn added. There will be no changes in enforcement and police are not adding any parking limits or signage for the summer.
Former Mayor Mike Morgan presented timed parking to discourage all-day parking downtown as an option in 2008, during his election campaign.
Shuttle service got a trial in 2011 and 2012, but it wasn’t cost-effective.
At a charge to the city of $47 an hour, “you could take a taxi to the Portland airport for less money,” Morgan said at the time.
Last summer, after impassioned arguments from the community, city councilors voted to table any discussion of timed parking or any other parking solutions until after the summer, the Gazette’s Brenna Visser reported.
This after Brian Davis from Lancaster Street Lab presented a parking study driving the timed parking experiment.
The study divided the city into three parking areas — crossroads or major downtown streets, outskirts and lots, and stall counts and types. Almost 400 spaces were not timed. Drivers stayed an average of 3 hours, 13 minutes. Downtown areas were 85 percent full by 10 a.m. on spring break Friday, while lots at more than 90 percent by 2 p.m.
Numbers for a “sunny April Saturday” were roughly comparable, according to the study.
Three-hour parking limit signs on some downtown streets were suggested by City Council last year as a pilot program to see whether timed parking increases turnover as a way to help the city reach the goal of creating 50 new spots by the end of 2018.
But business owners and community members rejected the idea that timed parking would increase business. More than 100 residents and business owners signed a petition against proposed parking time limits.
“The city MUST offer additional parking NOT limit parking areas!” business owner Mary Ann Oyala wrote in a letter to the city.
Timed parking is “against the grain of our naturally family friendly community,” jeweler Sharon Amber said.
Alaina and Marty Giguiere proposed eliminating RV parking in downtown and midtown and building a parking garage by the recycling area with free parking for merchants and their employees.
Greg Swedenborg, this year’s Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce president and general manager of The Waves, addressed the City Council early this year, after the council announced its 2018-19 top initiatives.
“Parking was not on the list,” he said. “When I spoke I asked that as a concerned citizen and business owner that they make time this year for the discussion.”
After the tabling of the two-hour limit, the council “just put the topic on the back burner.”
Their decision frustrated Swedenborg. “They just took the parking engineering report they paid for and put it on a shelf,” he said.
So he offered his own ideas, including the suggestion that Cannon Beach implement a fee-based parking program.
“Nobody wants to damage the ‘character of Cannon Beach’ with the idea of parking meters, increased signage, burden on the locals, but the reality is that for about six months of the year, and probably 80 percent of the weekends we have a parking problem,” he said.
Swedenborg took the city’s 2017 report to a company called Passport Inc., which has a software-based solution and doesn’t require meters or coins.
Using a mobile application, users can be on the beach and repay if time runs out.
In lots, a fee-based parking kiosk program could be rolled out seasonally, limited to summer or prime tourist dates, and locals can be given a sticker that allows them to park for free. Prices could be set at variable rates depending on the time of year, and could be enforced with tickets or warnings.
Swedenborg provided examples of communities similar to Cannon Beach that have successfully implemented the kiosk program — Carmel, California, Breckenridge, Colorado and Ocean City, Maryland, among others. He estimates the city could implement this solution on city lots and generate about $400,000 to $600,000 a year in parking revenue — more if they include city streets and the Tolovana Wayside.
Swedenborg touts the projected revenue opportunity “that pays for itself” with almost zero capital investment instead of “just putting our head in the sand.”
If he gets sufficient backing, he plans on going to the City Council again to share the idea and suggest that they make this issue a priority, he said.
Maybe Cannon Beach can learn some lessons from Oregon’s fastest-growing city, Bend — the fourth-fastest growing city in the country.
The city met the problem by hiring a dedicated staffer, David Dietrich, as parking demand manager to handle traffic concerns. The downtown parking district maintains a two-hour parking limit.
“We want to have high circulation,” Dietrich said. “Obviously the more circulation, the more customers and visitors who can go, spend and enjoy downtown.”
Police mark license plates using a hand-held device, with a requirement that cars move at least 750 feet after two hours. A permit program designates certain lots in the downtown area for employee parking.
“The idea is that we maximize on-street and certain areas for visitors and customers,” Dietrich said.
Permit revenue from paid parking pays for infrastructure — painting, striping, lighting and capital improvements. Enforcement pays for itself, he said.
For officials in Bend, the plan is in place to “enhance the customer experience here.” To handle future congestions, options would be adjusting time limits based on zones, expanding paid hourly lots, enhancing connectivity and wayfinding, Dietrich said.
“Say you’re coming into downtown Bend and a visitor, you’re probably going to the first spot you see. If you have wayfinding, we can steer you to the longer, more cost-effective parking. It’s like water — we want people to flow to the right places.”
R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.