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Taking parking to the polls?

Photo by Ari Steffen/Sierra SunTruckee resident Jody Sweet wants to start a ballot initiative that would remove paid parking from downtown Truckee.
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Jody Sweet has a plan to rid Truckee of paid parking that includes an antique, talking parking meter named Sally and a ballot initiative.

While his planned “protest” of metered parking, in which he will converse with Sally downtown about the follies of paid parking, is an odd method ” or as Sweet puts it “one of the more cornier grassroots efforts you’ve ever seen” ” he is deadly serious about his effort to abolish the meters.

“I think that [paid parking] really has hit a sour note with a lot of people,” Sweet said.



He hopes to collect enough signatures to get an initiative on the ballot in November that will put the new parking district to a vote. If the initiative makes it to the ballot, it will need only a simple majority ” at least 50 percent of the votes plus one ” to pass, said Truckee Town Attorney Dennis Crabb.

But the process to get the initiative on the ballot is deceptively difficult. Only 10 percent of registered voters are required to sign a petition to get the initiative on the ballot, but they all have to have voted in the last presidential election, said Crabb.



Also, the official language of the ballot measure has to be drafted before signatures are collected, and that language will become an ordinance if the measure passes. Finally, there are time limits and other technicalities that often require the help of a law firm to understand and comply with, said Crabb.

“It’s not a matter of simply writing something on a piece of paper and getting signatures,” he said.

But Sweet is undeterred. The parking has so rankled people that collecting enough signatures will be a cinch, he says.

“It’s time we stop acting like something we’re not,” said Sweet. “We’re not Aspen and we’re not a city.”

And Sweet is not alone in his wish that the 30-plus downtown parking meters would just disappear. Brent Cutler, owner of the Sports Exchange on West River Street, has collected an estimated 400 signatures on his own petition he plans to present to the town council.

Cutler, who has a climbing gym in the back of his store that patrons often use for a couple of hours, said the new meters have hurt his business and angered his customers.

“You get people that stand on the other side of the register and tell you they’re not coming back,” he said.

Cutler’s petition specifically supports the removal of parking meters along West River Street, an area he says is completely different than Commercial Row.

“There’s no reason for people to park and walk up and down the street” Cutler said, noting his is almost the only business on West River Street that relies on foot traffic.

He hopes the town reinstates free parking on West River Street, but enforces a one-hour parking limit on the street to keep people from parking on West River and walking over to Commercial Row.

Despite the opposition to paid parking, the Truckee Town Council doesn’t seem to be panicking. Mayor Beth Ingalls said the council will continue to look at changes to the parking district that will make it more user friendly.

“There are some things that we are going to have to keep adjusting,” said Ingalls.

“I think in general it is more of a mind-set issue. It’s something that people have to adjust to,” she said.

Much of the criticism of paid parking has linked the new meters to broad changes within the community ” Truckee’s growth and changing economics. While Ingalls admits there is a correlation between paid parking and other changes in town, she noted that Truckee has been seeing widespread change for decades.

“It’s been happening for years and years,” said Ingalls. “If people are just now saying that Truckee is turning into Aspen, then they haven’t been looking around.”

Councilwoman Barbara Green said that given time, she believes the controversy over paid parking will die down.

“I knew it was going to cause an uproar, but I think if we give it six months to a year, it will die down,” said Green.

Councilman Josh Susman said that two of Truckee’s Nevada County neighbors ” Nevada City and Grass Valley ” have had parking meters for years. He said the parking district needs to be given some time because jumping to conclusions too early may be trying to assess a “moving target.”

The town’s move to offer a free employee parking lot and offer discounts for frequent downtown visitors was a step in the right direction, said Susman. Residents and visitors can expect future changes as the paid parking district matures, he said.

“We knew we were going to have some bugs to work out, and although the town is not perfect, I think it’s been quick to respond,” said Susman.

Before paid parking, local taxpayers were bearing the entire burden of paying for snow removal and other parking related services downtown. The decision to go to paid parking saddled downtown visitors directly with the costs of leasing parking, snow removal and enforcement, said Susman.

“What happens now is the people that are using downtown are paying for downtown,” Susman said.

Councilman Richard Anderson said he was surprised that some of the downtown business did not support the paid parking specifics, since the downtown merchants presented a united front at town council meetings.

“When the council approved the paid parking program, the issue of most concern to us was the program’s potential impact on downtown businesses,” said Anderson. “The impression we received was that these businesses supported paid parking. We learned after we approved the program that a number of downtown businesses in fact had serious concerns …”


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