The Bend City Council moved forward Sept. 2 with an ordinance to create a restricted parking district in a small section of the Old Bend neighborhood. The City is going ahead with a pilot program that gives Old Bend residents a private parking district through the end of 2021, and fines others who park while visiting downtown, Drake Park and the Deschutes River. At that point, the City may renew and expand the program, or cancel it all together.
Only one City Councilor, Barb Campbell, argued the district was not fair for other taxpayers in Bend.
The pilot project will include all the streets east of the Deschutes River between Drake Park and Miller’s Landing Park, and will end at NW Broadway to the east. NW Riverside Boulevard along Drake Park will remain public with a four-hour parking limit.
For years, people who live in the district have said that some tubers, event-goers, shoppers and employees of downtown restaurants and the City of Bend park on the streets in front of their homes, and that they can’t find a place to park when they come home, according to Tobias Marx, the city’s parking services division manager, who said that is why prioritizing parking for people in Old Bend is important. He said tubers are sometimes rowdy after getting off the river, which disturbs the residents, who then call the City to complain.
“The proximity of the neighborhood to City Hall is a large contributor to the problem,” said former Bend City Councilor Doug Knight, who lives in the close-in part of Old Bend. “Even though they’ve been encouraged to park elsewhere, City employees (pre-COVID anyway) were still using our neighborhood as their de-facto parking lot. It’s true of restaurant and retail workers too, even farmers market trucks. Everyone seems to think that curbside in front of all of our houses is where they should park. Well, the 1910 neighborhood isn’t set up for that. A lot of us don’t even have garages big enough to fit modern cars in them.”
Residents of Old Bend near Drake Park will pay between $15-30 for a year-long parking permit. The fees will fund a program where the City will post “permit only” signs throughout the district, and pay a third-party parking enforcement company to fine non-permit holders $50. The City’s goal is to make the program cost-neutral and to eventually funnel profits toward a new Old Bend Neighborhood parking committee for improvement projects, according to Marx, who presented the plan to the Bend City Council on Sept. 2.
To gauge support for the parking restriction zone, the City sent out 1,005 surveys to residents of the entire Old Bend district which stretches from the Deschutes River and moves east to Highway 97, south to NW Arizona Avenue and north to Franklin Avenue. The return rate on the survey was 26%, Marx explained.
Most of the respondents lived between the river and NW Broadway and were supportive of the permit system, so Marx proposed this smaller are a for a pilot program. Even in that neighborhood though, the return rate was only around 40%.
In the beginning, the City may use money from its general fund to get the project off the ground, according to City Manager Eric King. The City hopes to use it as a model to create similar districts throughout Bend, Marx said.
“I see this as a responsibility of the City to preserve the livability of the community,” said Councilor Bill Moseley at the Sept. 2 City Council meeting. “The community is growing and changing, and sometimes the City encourages that change, through promoting tourism for example, or rezoning a particular area to be commercial. And often times this degrades the livability of the community where people live right in their homes.”
“I do have concerns of a balloon effect, you squeeze it one area, it’s going to pop out in another,” said Councilor Justin Livingston. “I think we could be shoving the issue just a block or two away.”
“I know that this particular neighborhood, especially in the pilot area, has been grappling with this issue for probably 30 years,” said Mayor Sally Russell during the City Council meeting. “We’re going to be having this conversation for a really long time unless we make some sort of decision tonight.” She voted in favor of the pilot program.
Russell’s family owns two properties in Old Bend, including one on State Street, in the pilot project area, as well as one on NW Georgia Avenue. They’re both in Russell’s daughter’s name, in a Revocable Trust, meaning all income earned on the property goes to the grantor as long as the grantor is alive. Per Bend City Council rules, councilors were advised to recuse themselves from voting if they live or have a business in the area, or have a family member that does. Russell was briefed on this rule by Associate City Attorney Elizabeth Oshel during the meeting, and opted to vote anyway.
The permit parking program was first proposed in response to two parking studies the City commissioned in 2017 to evaluate parking issues in downtown and near NW Galveston Avenue. Combined, these studies cost the City nearly a half a million dollars, according to Sharon Wojda, the City’s chief financial officer. This February, the City Council made it a goal to begin to adopt code changes that would allow for the new parking districts by June.
A private parking district; a public street
The lone dissenting vote on the program was Councilor Barb Campbell, who said the program was not equitable.
“This resolution is selling part of the public right of way to a small number of our citizens,” she said. “As a taxpayer, I have to contribute to the creation of a space that I cannot park, and then I will get charged a citation to subsidize the residents so they don’t have to pay for the whole thing themselves.”
Campbell later told the Source, “This is institutional classism. The government is excluding undesirable people from privileged neighborhoods, yet every last one of them paid for these darn streets.”
Cameron Clark—who runs C3 Events and hosts many events in Drake Park throughout the summer—is also concerned about equity. He also lives in Old Bend.
He said that all events he hosts spill into the Old Bend area, including Munch & Music in Drake Park, as well as seasonal festivals downtown. He said he never markets those events outside of Bend and that most attendees are from Central Oregon, according to yearly surveys his company conducts.
“This [parking program] is taking free events that have transcended class for decades and that attract more than 90% locals and then starts charging people to go,” Clark said. “It discourages a multi-class group of people from going. People won’t come. Many people decide to go at the last minute.”
Parking Services Division Manager Tobias Marx said the City will organize an event-specific parking program where special parking will be allowed on certain streets like NW Broadway for a nightly fee of $5 that will be paid through a mobile device.
“The City is collecting a tax for not doing anything,” Clark said. “It will be collecting thousands of dollars.”
Clark is also concerned that the City is opening a “pandora’s box” of private parking districts all over the city to appease angry neighbors who call to complain.
According to Councilor Chris Piper, this is exactly what the City has in mind:
“Looking at a smaller footprint [in Old Bend] will give assurance to the other part of the neighborhood that we will have a model in place that we can expand throughout the community.”