PT businesses, customers sound off on parking

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 7/17/19

Following The Leader’s June 26 story on parking enforcement within the city of Port Townsend, the city’s business owners, employees and customers had no shortage of opinions to offer about the availability of parking spaces in Port Townsend, and very few of them were pleased about it.

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PT businesses, customers sound off on parking

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Following The Leader’s June 26 story on parking enforcement within the city of Port Townsend, the city’s business owners, employees and customers had no shortage of opinions to offer about the availability of parking spaces in Port Townsend, and very few of them were pleased about it.

According to those The Leader interviewed, tourists worry about receiving tickets, even locals struggle to fit in all their errands within the allotted time, and the workers who serve them find themselves hoofing it, often up and down some big hills, to get from their cars to their jobs and back again.

WATERFRONT PIZZA

Josiah Lane, an 11-year employee of Waterfront Pizza, was blunt in his assessment.

“We can’t [expletive] park anywhere,” said Lane, who added that downtown parking “[expletive] sucks,” because all the parking on the street is two-hour only.

Lane recalled that, before the city stopped ticketing, his fellow employees were constantly getting tickets, including the owner, whom he noted is in her 60s, and does not want to park far away.

Lane understands the need for two-hour parking, because it keeps traffic and business flowing through downtown, but he believes it shouldn’t be at a cost to locals and employees.

The only places Lane was aware of where a car wouldn’t get ticketed were at the skatepark or on Washington Street, except he almost always found Washington Street full, and the skate park is farther than Lane feels he and his fellow employees should have to walk to park for work.

“It’s fine right now, but as soon as they start ticketing again, it’s gonna suck,” Lane said. “You either have to leave work to move your car, or park far away.”

As far as Lane is concerned, either employees of downtown businesses should be able to pay a yearly flat rate for a permit that will allow them to park during the work day, or there should be eight-hour parking.

From what Lane has observed, parking has only gotten worse since the most recent spate of downtown construction, in no small part because a courtyard now standards where there was one a parking lot next to Better Living Through Coffee.

“They took away 12 or 13 spots, and said there would be more,” Lane said. “Where are they? I don’t see them.”

SILVERWATER CAFE

Bethany Mahaffey, a server at the Silverwater Cafe, parks next to it “fairly often,” most of the time along the Washington Street hill, but sometimes next to Khu Larb or the Cellar Door.

Mahaffey is more likely to park on the hill because of her belief that those issuing tickets would be less likely to walk up the steep hill.

Fellow server Einav Bloom bikes to work, so parking is not an issue for her. She noted that she’s not alone in this regard, since several members of the kitchen staff don’t have cars, and are dropped off to work by their significant others, in part to avoid the parking issue.

Bloom believes it’s easier for her and Mahaffey, because they come to work right as most businesses are opening, whereas their evening shift colleagues have a harder time.

When Bloom worked evening shifts, “I had to circle around a bunch. It was kind of frustrating.”

Mahaffey was issued a ticket roughly a year ago, and admitted to being afraid of incurring another for a while afterward, but she hasn’t gotten one since.

Co-owner Alison Hero agreed there’s a shortage of parking downtown.

“It’s frustrating for many customers,” Hero said. “I think it probably deters them in the summer, and I think a lot of people avoid coming downtown. People are irritated. Someone will come in and say, ‘There’s two of us, but my husband is looking for parking.’ And he’ll come in 15-20 minutes later.”

Hero reported that “lots” of her friends, family members and acquaintances have told her they don’t even try coming downtown.

Hero has what she described as a “perfect” solution; since Memorial Field slopes downhill, she suggested installing a parking garage beneath a raised turf field, which she asserted would attract more regional sports teams and matches, while also generating profit through the use of both the field and the parking garage.

Hero comes in early in the morning, and parks up on the Washington Street hill.

“It makes me nervous with how far away they have to park, and then have to walk that far again at night,” said Hero, who harbors safety concerns.

When the Silverwater Cafe’s building was remodeled 25 years ago, Hero recalled that the city made them purchase future parking spots, to invest in the future parking fund.

Hero isn’t sure if this future parking fund yielded any fruit, although she concedes it might have funded the park-and-ride at the Haines Place.

Hero has seen parking get worse because “the town has gotten more discovered. We do all the promotion to come to town, and they come, and then we don’t have parking.”

Oak Harbor resident John Wright walks off the ferry from Whidbey Island to avoid parking, which he said was worse here than in Whidbey, with spaces for disabled people proving especially scarce.

“Finding places has been difficult, especially in the summertime,” Wright said.

LEHANI’S DELI & COFFEE

Bill LeMaster is the co-owner of Lehani’s, along with Lynn Hamlin-LeMaster, and described parking access as a recurring issue for his employees and customers alike.

“See any parking spaces open?” LeMaster asked rhetorically. “It’s like this most of the year.”

LeMaster himself is relatively untroubled by the level of parking access, since he believes the city makes too many accommodations for automobiles to begin with, especially given the community’s expressed commitment to enhancing walkability and bicycling.

“Whether it is regulations for additional dwelling units in the town, requirements for cars, it is too car-centric,” LeMaster said. “I putt around and find a place to park and walk, or I put my flashers on and unload out front.”

The average distance out that people have to park is two to three blocks.

“Wow, it’s really terrible,” LeMaster said with a laugh.

LeMaster doesn’t believe the distance deters prospective customers as much as the enforcement of parking restrictions.

“You have visitors that are trying to shop, and maybe have lunch and see a movie, and they only have two hours to get out of their spot before they get a ticket,” said LeMaster, who believes a lack of citations would be better for the tourist trade. “It might be befuddling to some people that are older, when there could be some more handicapped spots or something of that nature.”

LeMaster hears no shortage of complaints about parking from visitors to town, who worry about whether the police are actually enforcing the parking sign regulations.

“Employees have called on their cell phones, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be a couple of minutes late because we’re looking for a place to park,’” LeMaster said. “It’s part of the flavor.”

LeMaster nonetheless believes most motorists steer clear of spaces for the disabled unless they qualify for them, and doesn’t see parking access as a situation that has changed significantly over time.

“The bigger vehicles sometimes create more of a problem, like big motorhomes on narrow streets such as Taylor,” LeMaster said. “But no, I personally don’t think parking is an issue. People feel as if they’re entitled to walk only 10 paces to someplace, and get frustrated because they’re not getting their way. They need to get over their entitlement issues.”

Customer Timothy Martin, who hails from Chicago, drove across on the ferry, and his family frequently vacations in the Port Townsend area during the summer months.

“You have to drive around a little bit, and it is a little bit of a walk, maybe a couple of blocks,” Martin said. “But it’s really not far.”

Martin is accustomed to walking in big cities like Chicago, and appreciates that Port Townsend’s parking spaces are free.

“The density here is nothing compared to what it is in any city,” Martin said. “I am sure Seattle is that way.”

Even the Port Townsend practice of large supply trucks unloading in the middle of the street is familiar to Martin from the years he’s lived in Philadelphia and Chicago.

“Do you want density in Port Townsend?” Martin said. “Shops are more vibrant, people are coming and going. I am sure you want to balance. I am not going to give any advice here on how you develop your town, but you want to balance that walkability, and having walkability you need to have density. Having density means it is harder to find parking.”

While Martin sees this as an inevitable consequence of developing the downtown, he also sees it as evidence of the downtown’s desirability to visitors.

Martin’s sister left her car behind to walk off the ferry in Port Townsend, and Martin credited Port Townsend’s density with allowing her to see so much of the city as a pedestrian.

Lehani’s barista Debbie Holt describes parking as so difficult to find that she doesn’t even bother, and takes the bus instead.

Holt reported that the top of the hill is particularly well-used for parking, and she’s often asked by customers whether the two-hour parking rule is enforced.

“I always tell them yes,” Holt said. “Otherwise, they’re going to get a ticket, and come in and yell at me. We’ve had several cooks who would come in, run back out to move their cars, then come back in. It’s just a hassle.”

Holt blamed the recent street construction to removing “a bunch” of parking spaces, as well as listing a number of spaces as two-hour parking for the first time.

“For people who want to shop, or want to eat and then go shop, that’s just not enough time,” Holt said. “It’s poor planning. We are a tourist community. Okay, I get it; you’re a local and you don’t want to come downtown when everybody is here, fine. Don’t come downtown, but don’t make it hard on the businesses, or that’s going to drive people away.”

Holt advocated deregulating parking.

“There are other ways to make money,” Holt said. “I know this takes a big chunk of money, but I would put in meters, make it cheap, let them say, ‘I am going to be here four hours,’ chunk in money and go,” Holt said.

NIFTY FIFTIES

Omar Santos, owner of the Nifty Fifties since last year, reported that his crew of six employees usually spend four days a week parking two to three blocks away from the restaurant, and even then, they’re only able to locate open spaces after about five minutes of driving around.

“We open at 11 a.m., so even if you arrive 10 minutes before opening time, it’s super-hard to find parking spaces,” Santos said. “A lot of our customers are afraid of getting ticketed, because with a two-hour maximum parking time, you have to be quick if you want to fit in shopping and a meal.”

Santos feels the relative availability of parking spots has remained about the same since he took over Nifty Fifties a year ago, but since his own shifts routinely last 10 to 12 hours, he finds himself not only getting ticketed, but also getting those fines compounded.

“I live here, but it makes me feel like I’m just another tourist,” Santos said.

When it came to possible solutions, Santos found himself of like minds with one of his customers, Merrily Olson, who’s lived in the area for the past 19 years.

“I wish there were more parking spaces, but where would they build them?” Santos said.

“There just doesn’t seem to be anywhere to put them,” agreed Olson, who only shops in downtown Port Townsend about once a month, but almost always finds herself hunting for parking spaces when she does.

Santos would welcome setting aside two to three parking spaces per business, and even suggested a three-to four-story-high parking structure, similar to those in Seattle.

PRIMA MATERIA

“Every day, we have to park up on the hill next to the Post Office,” said Ellen Caldwell, an employee at Prima Materia. “We all live here, we work here and we pay taxes here, so we should be able to park here.”

Caldwell objected to what she saw as the inconsistency of Port Townsend’s parking policies and their enforcement.

“I can have people in my store for an hour and a half,” Caldwell said. “We can’t have something that forces people to leave, and not spend their money here in town.”

Caldwell has heard some people complain about parking meters, but she sees them as a better alternative than Port Townsend’s current state of affairs.

Among the other suggestions offered by Prima Materia employees were placards for residents, which would allow them to pay monthly fee to park within a certain radius of their businesses, and parking passes for businesses, so that business owners could provide parking for their employees, especially if some of those employees are disabled.

Comments

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HarveyW

We should all, every one of us, remember that one man's ceiling is another man's floor. Parking a few blocks away from your business in front of another, compounded city wide, cuts available parking for customers significantly. More importantly we need to understand that the past City Manager under the guidance of a No Term Limit City Council, with one real estate focused member on Council for 18 years was paid around 2.5 million dollars to keep ahead of this problem over decades. Nothing was done.

According to the past City Manager years ago, parking was "being studied". Nothing was done. I have sent dozens of photos of my business surrounded by workers and residents all day to the Appointed Mayor and No Term Limit Council. No replies. No action. I do not do this for fun or enjoy doing it. It is and was needed to document day to day damages we all incur, whether we know and understand the root cause or not.

We pay our local government to plan and act in a fair and thoughtful manner for all. Parking problems are a manifestation of corrupted thinking of a very out of touch group of our neighbors, who are allowed to call themselves The City of Port Townsend. The group has ignored municipal codes that if followed would have illustrated the need to keep on top of parking using a variety of methods and options, evolving over many years. These are failed individuals creating a failed system.

Solutions? On the street kiosks and hand outs at businesses giving information to our very important visitors from near and far of options, and actual options created. None have been. Designated park and ride shuttles and perhaps Uber style mini shuttles around town for employees and visitors. Parking garages in Historic Districts are difficult but needed at least for residents and workers to free up street parking. Obviously that option is also limited by available space, and must go hand in hand with education and other options. Again, we are far down the dysfunctional road paved by the No Term Limit Council and Appointed Mayor who live in denial. Main Street and the Chamber have done nothing for us and sit in silence. There are many other good options, space here limits going into all of them.

I believe the folks interviewed here do collectively have the answers. Run through the filter of the existing power structure here we will be having the same conversations and damage to visitors and business for years to come, as the No Term Limit Council and Appointed Mayor focus on other priorities. They have had their chance and shown us their priorities.

I believe it is time for a Merchants Association to be formed to address this and other problems with the out of touch folks calling the shots in town. Main Street and The Chamber are essentially silent puppets of the Status Quo. They have had their opportunity and squandered it. I also fervently believe that the root cause is the special interest No Term Limit Council and Mayor they appoint from within. They need to be moved on and changed to a term limit Council and Elected Mayor that more fairly represents all. The answers will take years to implement. We will argue and fuss. That is as it should be. There is a community here. It is smothered by special interests and organizations that have learned to not rock the boat in the interest of careers.

Never forget the difference between parking problems and the root cause. We are "led" into todays cluster ****. Everyone deserves better.

Harvey Windle

Forest Gems Gallery since 1996 on the often blockaded corner of Washington and Adams.

I also go by the name of Collateral Damage when signing communication and providing data to the dysfunctional No Term Limit City Council and the Mayor they appoint from within. We are all Collateral Damage. 18 years for someone to be on a City Council is more than enough. Especially considering the effects. A new City Manager is now under the wing of the senior Council Member. Think. Think. Think.

Wednesday, July 17
Dawn mohrbacher

I own Bubble N Squeak. I'm thinking of not owning it as doing business in this town is sheer hell. I need to park close to my shop as I sell furniture and lighting. While I would prefer to walk from the top of the hill..there are days I can't put a table on my back and walk a few blocks. I have business neighbors who are in the same boat. Why don't we look at a multi story parking garage behind my shop (926 Water) It would be hidden so it wouldn't ruin the historic moment and it could sell spots on a monthly basis for folks like me. There is space there.

Oh wait...that would take an effective city manager (who owns a derelict building next door) and some mental acuity. Sadly that is short on our city council. I will be driving to work today and parking in the access spot for oil and power for other businesses. I don't have a choice. Thank you port townsend

Wednesday, July 17
Mike Loriz

I'm fortunate to live Uptown, so I can usually avoid the parking situation that the employees and visitors have to suffer. I agree with Harvey and Dawn that leadership on this issue seems to be sorely lacking.

May I add that another 18-20 parking spaces were lost when, with neither public notice nor adjacent property owner notification, the block of Adams between Franklin and Jefferson was blocked off to public access a few months ago? What had been a public thoroughfare is now a confusing, ugly, weed-infested disgrace to the city. This block used to provide valuable parking and driving access, and is lost. Had a citizen pulled a stunt such as this without notification he or she would be fined and the action corrected. The City just does what it does without similar accountability.

Another issue is at the top of the Taylor stairs, as the stairs merge into the new sidewalk. For some unfathomable reason, the sidewalk was not synced with the top stair, and now a grossly non-code situation exists, endangering the public and putting the City at risk. How could this situation have been approved? The new sidewalk is otherwise lovely, IMHO. But please, can someone in the City tell me? How could this unsafe error have been permitted?

Wednesday, July 17
Marge Samuelson

I am amazed that none of these business owners have mentioned the possibility of working with Jefferson Transit to set up bus service that would fit with the hours their businesses are open. The Park N Ride was built for the purpose of adding parking spaces and encouraging people to take the bus. If you open at 10 a.m., which most do in PT, *(except restaurants) have a bus from the park n ride at 9:45 etc. There isn't an easy solution to the parking problem or we wouldn't still be complaining 50 years later.

Wednesday, July 17
HarveyW

Sorry you missed it Marge. My comment included along with other ideas heard over the years...."Solutions? Designated park and ride shuttles and perhaps Uber style mini shuttles around town for employees and visitors."

The abilities and motivations of individuals allowing, managing and designing such programs is key. The present Council has created the present problem and ignored it for years.

Wednesday, July 17
Dawn mohrbacher

Marge....if I sell potato chips, the park and ride is lovely. I sell large items. No one wants to take them on a bus.

Thursday, July 18
Justeks Hale

'Sounds to me like the free market is dictating that some folks need to move their businesses out of downtown PT. This happens sometimes in the real world, populated by grownups.

Also, buses already run, Monday through Saturday, which will get anyone to work by 10AM. There is also an electric-powered shuttle already in business, during tourist season, as well as a taxis. Whatever excuses people make for not using these services, are their own. Plenty of the residents of PT use these services already.

There are also at least three bicycle shops in town, ready and willing to help people get into cycling to work and play. Our buses even have bike racks on the front! Imagine that!

Thursday, July 18
Mike Loriz

Marge- I just returned from Haines, and the number of auto parking spots there is approximately equal to the number of spots lost by City action ( realignment of Water St and loss of Adams St) over the past six months or so.

I walked past the Taylor stairs yesterday, and the embarrassment of the top stair has been sprayed with yellow caution paint. Brand new construction that is so unsafe that it has to be spray painted. It would be funny if not so sad.

This paper alleges serious Sunshine Law evasion by the City. I see grossly non-code compliant work being done and/or approved by the City on the Taylor stairs. The City arbitrarily closes a section of Adams formerly used by traffic and for parking.

I increasingly think that there needs to be a wholesale change in the City government. Anyone associated with these matters might consider another line of work.

Thursday, July 18
HarveyW

Regarding availability of bus and shuttles. I have repeatedly pointed out to the No Term Limit Council and Appointed Mayor since 2015 that they were changing, and now have changed the culture of residents and employees in the Historic District to one of taking limited public parking and not thinking of any consequences regarding customer access to all of our businesses. Add to that less spaces and more people.

As the interviews here illustrate a prominent attitude is to stay away from Port Townsend due specifically to parking. City policies damage business and true community. Many workers freely say they take public parking when they can and don't sense many options or a bigger picture. The very limited sporadic enforcement seen over the last several years can be correlated to attention being drawn to the City Council's and appointed Mayor's lack of accountability. The parking crunch would be even worse if not for that.

Re education and information is now needed via handouts and programs for employees, owners, and residents living in housing not requiring parking considerations to reaffirm that we all live and die by customer access. Similar information for visitors regarding real options not yet tied together and marketed are needed and have been suggested for years. All day parking in 2 hour zones directly reflects attitudes in City Hall. "We don't need to care about our neighbors and can hide behind tiles". You are seen.

Government draws boundaries so all know limits and don't damage each other. Pretty basic stuff. As Mike points out our city government, due to specific long term individuals on Council and those on Council that blindly follow, seems to have forgotten boundaries that should keep itself from overstepping. As Mike says Sunshine Law evasion. Serious stuff.

There has never been any downside to those in City Government ignoring laws and municipal codes. They judge themselves and find no problems. Current government is theoretically but not actually bound by rules and laws left by past officials as checks and balances. But not in real life today. Current city government has gradually strayed to what we have today with terms on council as much as 18 years with no end in sight. You can be appointed Mayor go back on Council and be appointed again. If you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. This is a prime real estate market. Gentrification can be enhanced at the expense of other things. Lots of things can be. Term limits. Elected Mayor. Checks and balances. Its government, not a social club. Or is it?

There is no word from the appointed figure head Mayor, 18 year veteran Council member or any other Council representative. No corrections or insight. There is no, we made mistakes and are responsible and fixing those mistakes. There is nothing, as there were no answers or replies to my data and documentation over many years showing growing parking damages and a damaging culture being formed of the self entitled.

I have set up an email address freeporttownsend@forestgems.com to begin the process of changing the No Term Limit City Council to Term Limits and the Appointed Mayor to a fairly elected Mayor. More advertising and efforts will come. Please contact us with complaints or insights about city government or to help set up the long process to end corrupted thinking at our City Hall. The situations Mike notes seem to be "normal" operating procedure evolved over the last 20 years. Sunshine Law evasion. Parking is just another manifestation of our neighbors wearing titles they disrespect that damage this community. If we all sit back and expect others to do the work, we all will be subject to more of the same.

I am cynical about "us". "We" would rather go see a movie at the Rose about corrupted local government by a good writer and director than step out and see that we ourselves are in a real life "play" about corrupted thinking and actions. Eat popcorn or take action. You are "the masses" here in PT. Take it back. Its a long road. The powers that be are pretty secure in the thought that "the masses" are no threat.

freeporttownsend@forestgems.com Term limits on City Council and a fairly elected Mayor. Checks and balances. Its normal. I feel I owe this effort to the real town that hosted my business and thousands of visitors for the last 23 years. The government of that town was hijacked. Just like you I have other things to do. Step up. Or complain. We are the Government we enable.

Harvey Windle

Forest Gems Mill and Gallery

In PT since 1996

freeporttownsend@forestgems.com

Saturday, July 20
Victoria Winteringham

How weird - I recently subscribed to the Leader so that I could write a letter to the editor on the subject of parking, or lack of it. We live in South Dakota, but drive 1,600 miles to vacation in Port Townsend, where we have a house. The last two times we were in PT, I didn't even bother to drive into town. I love to shop, but drove to Port Hadlock, Sequim and Silverdale to do all my shopping. If others do the same thing, it must result in quite a financial loss for local merchants.

The problem for me is walking. I know that many retirees live in and around Port Townsend. I am one of them. Surely, there must be others like me, with walking difficulties. If I do find a parking spot, at the far end of town, for example, I still must walk back into town, an impossibility. I also thought of Park N Ride. The problem there is that the bus only makes a few stops, very far apart. My thought is that someone with an entrepreneurial spirit could start a shuttle business - small buses or shuttles that make frequent stops in town, every two blocks, say. Maybe one uptown and another downtown. The shuttles could be picked up at Safeway or QFC parking lot and go continuously around their routes, thus avoiding long wait times. Such a system would make shopping in town not only feasible for people like me, but pleasurable. My friend suggested small trolleys that might even become a tourist attractions.

Tuesday, July 23