Friday, June 15, 2007

Short Memories and Poor Public Policies

An editorial in today’s Northwest Arkansas Times notes approvingly that “City staff is working on a plan that would convert all city parking lots in the downtown area into paid parking.” This is a sign that both the editorial writer and the Fayetteville city administration have no institutional memory and a poor sense of good public policy.

Once upon a time, the City saw a chance to make money by installing parking meters at every available space in the downtown area. Then came Evelyn Hills and the Northwest Arkansas Mall with free parking, and many downtown businesses deserted the square and followed the developers to the sprawling areas of free parking. To level the retail playing field, the City decided to offer free parking around the square and near Dickson Street so businesses might attract a few more customers. It worked.

Now come the developers back to the Downtown-Dickson area, and we see pay parking lots springing up, operated by the developers and by the University Baptist Church of Mammon with it’s 322 parking spaces where neighborhood homes once stood. The Northwest Arkansas Times sniffs that “people sometimes take developments like this one as a sign that the almighty dollar is the key thing — and if that means bulldozing community spirit as a result, so be it. Paid parking, however, can be a good thing.”

The editorial pontificator asks rhetorically, “Isn’t it better for those who make use of the parking to pay for it rather than continue free parking at a cost to all taxpayers?” If that is the prevailing assumption, why didn’t the editorial staff advocate passage of the road impact fees for developers on the same principle? And why doesn’t Mayor Coody propose a toll road to the mall area ”enterprise zone” instead of throwing millions of our sales taxes to help customers get to those businesses with free parking? Why do the developers always get the free lunch and the common people get stuck with the tab?

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