Paul Matson: What a difference a dollar makes

Recently Nevada City’s staff made a recommendation to the City Council to raise the hourly parking rate from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour; reasonable, easy to do and no big deal.

Then there was a second meeting, and while properly noticed, no one seemed to notice this agenda item, and no one attended or commented when invited by then Mayor David Parker. It’s understandable as to why things ended up the way they did.

The concept then quickly escalated into a plan for funding other needs at City Hall, resulting in quadrupling the current rate of 25 cents to $1 per hour. Apparently there is also a plan to add 34 new meters, some in the residential neighborhoods.

While well-intended, this will hurt all things local: the people who live here, the downtown businesses, and our neighborhoods.

It’s worth remembering that the parking meters were never intended to fund the many needed city services. Their original purpose was to promote business by keeping the cars moving to free up convenient parking for more downtown shoppers. The revenue that exceeded the cost of maintaining and managing the meters was placed in a restricted Parking Fund to help provide more new parking spaces. It was those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that paid for purchasing the Commercial Street Parking lot property from the United States Forest Service, which had long used it as a corporation yard. Seventy eight new spaces were created.

With the addition of new paid parking areas, some people may have to pay to park in front of own their homes, as well their family and friends. Several areas where merchants, postal workers, courthouse employees and visitors have traditionally parked for free on the edges of the downtown will now be lost to paid parking. This will drive those people into the residential neighborhoods close to downtown, where there’s already a parking problem.

For businesses like the Miners Foundry, Stone House, Bonanza Market, New York Hotel, Lefty’s, Miners Village and others the persistent problem that they have with “illegitimate” parking in their private lots will increase dramatically for the same reasons.

Then there is the question: will the proposed quadrupled rate raise the monies that are projected? Maybe not. Simply raising the price of something by 400% does not in any way guarantee a corresponding 400% increase in revenue. At this writing I’m counting five empty storefronts in downtown Nevada City. If more business vacancies occur and/or a reduction in customer and cash flow as a result of the new rate, there will also be a corresponding drop in sales tax revenues, not to mention the hardship on the business owners.

It’s always fun to dine out and run into friends and neighbors in our local restaurants. This rate increase does not recognize the importance of the people that live here who support our businesses every single day of the year. The out-of-towners may not notice the increase that much, but the locals will when they are treated like out-of-towners.

Nevada City is being proactive on reducing fire danger. Like some other cities it wants to purchase a Fire Horn for an early warning in case of a disaster, and conduct vegetation removal to reduce the risks of a wild fire. With the new revenues rolling in from the Cannabis industry, and with fire season upon us, the city should just go out and buy a Fire Horn right now. This new dispensary revenue could also easily help fund the needed vegetation removal in and around town without dinging the “locals” in their own downtown.

As originally proposed by staff, if the existing parking meters’ rates were raised by 25 cents an hour to a new rate of 50 cents per hour at existing metered spaces people would barely blink. No new equipment purchases would be needed. That should result in an annual revenue boost of roughly $120,000/year. In my opinion this increase would not harm our downtown businesses nor our residents and neighborhoods. Those new monies could also be dedicated to vegetation removal or other needs.

It is greatly appreciated and appropriate that the City Council will be hearing this topic again at its Tuesday, July 23, meeting at City Hall, 317 Broad St.,at 6:30 p.m.

In closing, Nevada City is not like Truckee or other communities being used as examples, nor is it even vaguely similar. It is a lot more like its neighbors in downtown Grass Valley, except their parking is free almost everywhere, every day of the week. It’s an easy drive, just three miles down the road from downtown Nevada City.

Paul Matson, who lives in Nevada City, is a former Nevada City councilmember and current member of Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not reflect the viewpoint of or its editorial board. Write to him at [email protected]

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