By editorial board • 

Clarification to parking regulation should be starting point

It’s welcome news that the McMinnville City Council will be discussing downtown parking at its Tuesday meeting. It’s an issue that has garnered much interest as traffic and tourism grow around the Third Street district.

Unfortunately, the discussion on the agenda revolves around a proposed revision to downtown parking rules, not the serious questions regarding downtown parking. 

Councilors decided to update the regulations after Municipal Judge Cynthia Kaufman Noble, responding to a local attorney’s challenge, declared the 40-year-old rules too vague to be legally enforceable.

To make the regulations less vague, new wording specifies car owners can no longer move vehicles just a space or two to reset the two-hour time limit of on-street parking. To reset that clock, a car owner would now have to move to a separate block. An emergency clause attached to the resolution would enact these new rules immediately. 

That begs the question: Isn’t each parking spot worth the same? A spot is a spot. What’s the difference if a car is on the side of Northwest Food & Gifts or parked in front of Harvest Fresh? 

The value of each parking space, according to a McMinnville Downtown Association estimate, is represented between $17,000 and $20,000 in annual customer spending.

The proposed new wording of the policy may clarify some language, but does nothing for the intent of downtown parking rules. 

By no means do we suggest this is an easy problem to tackle. Parking rules affect downtown employees the most. Ideally, the two-hour rule shouldn’t affect out-of-town shoppers, eaters and wine tasters. We would hope they would stay more than two hours, roaming the shopping district without having to worry about moving their cars. Of course, deciphering car owners as local or out-of-towner, worker or shopper, is impossible — leaving it a difficult task to serve all needs properly and equitably.

Hopefully the council takes the issue at hand as a starting point to some long-needed brainstorming about the future of downtown parking. There are small solutions to discuss, like a better sign system that directs employees and tourists who plan to stay a while to long-term parking areas. Perhaps some spaces off the main drags that don’t impede storefronts could be dedicated to employees.

Then there’s the long-term problem, the elephant in the room, of creating more spaces. The problem being faced is when parking issues become detrimental to downtown, not if they will. Some clarification in parking language isn’t going to solve the potential crisis.

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