Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to raise rates and extend hours for the city’s parking meters hit a significant snag Wednesday, with a majority of the City Council coming out against the proposal.
Landrieu can implement the proposed changes to rates and hours without the council’s approval, but the opposition of four council members caused administration officials to soften their tone on the proposal, saying they would be willing to talk about the issue as part of the ongoing budget negotiations with the council.
Some council members hinted they might introduce a measure specifically to block the changes.
The Mayor’s Office proposed the increases as part of the 2016 operating budget. The administration couched the plan less as a revenue generator than as a way to encourage more efficient use of scarce parking spaces and increase patronage at local businesses by encouraging more rapid turnover of the spaces. But most of the opposition has come from restaurants and bars that say their workers use the on-street spaces and will be hit the hardest.
“I’m not a fan of the proposal. I think it’s ill-conceived,” Councilman Jared Brossett said. “As a government trying to assist the working class and working people, this hits them the most.”
Owners and managers of bars and a representative of the Louisiana Restaurant Association called on the city not to go through with the plan as council members Wednesday reviewed the proposed budget for the Department of Public Works, which oversees the meters.
In addition to Brossett, Councilwomen Nadine Ramsey, LaToya Cantrell and Susan Guidry said they oppose the increases. Ramsey and Cantrell represent the neighborhoods that have the majority of the city’s meters and that would be hit by the largest rate increases: the French Quarter and Central Business District.
The administration has proposed increasing meter rates from $1.50 an hour to $3 an hour in those areas, and from $1.50 to $2 an hour throughout the rest of the city. In addition, meters would remain active until 10 p.m., four hours later than they are now.
The changes were expected to generate about $4.3 million in new revenue from the meters and from fines for violations, though $1 million of that would go toward increased enforcement.
Existing city ordinances give the administration the leeway to raise meter rates to a maximum of $3.75 an hour without any action by the council; there is no restriction on the hours that use of the meters can be required. But Cantrell floated the idea of introducing an ordinance that would impose caps.
Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said raising the rates is in line with best practices from other cities and the recommendations of economists who argue that street parking should be priced competitively with other alternatives.
Officials also have argued that increasing the cost would make street parking less attractive and therefore more available, potentially reducing traffic caused by motorists circling the block looking for a space.
With about 80,000 hospitality industry workers in the city and 2,000 metered parking spots, Kopplin said that availability rather than price is the key issue when it comes to where those workers park.
Addressing the increased cost of parking should be done by increasing the availability of public transit or raising wages for hospitality workers, rather than by preventing a meter rate increase, he said.
But in the face of opposition from the council, Kopplin said the administration “certainly will anticipate negotiating with council members as we produce the budget,” which will be up for a vote Nov. 19.
“I do think we should price parking on the street for market conditions, but we’re certainly happy to discuss with you other paths forward,” he said.
At least one council member is supportive of increasing charges at metered spaces. Councilwoman Stacy Head did not speak about the issue Wednesday but has previously backed the administration’s position.
Council President Jason Williams and Councilman James Gray did not address the issue Wednesday.
Opponents of the plan cited various complaints, from the financial hit restaurant workers would take if they had to pay higher prices and feed the meters later in the day to the increased risk employees would face if they had to park in more distant, unmetered spots and walk longer distances while carrying the night’s tips.
“This makes it more difficult to maintain the staff we need,” said Nick Detrich, owner of Cane and Table.
Various estimates were put forward for how much the changes would cost the average hospitality worker, generally ranging from about $2,000 a year to $4,000 a year. Many restaurant and bar workers make about $17,000 a year, according to council members and restaurant representatives.
Restaurant employees and council members also took issue with the administration’s claim that most of the increased rates would be paid by tourists.
“You have to look at the uniqueness of some of the areas you’re talking about,” Ramsey said. “A lot of our workers use (metered spaces) for parking. It’s not people who are coming down with extra income to shop or go to restaurants.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.