A group of activists who opposed Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s initial plan to raise the city’s parking meter rates is now taking issue with a compromise plan the mayor announced Wednesday.
Three leaders of the opposition said Sunday that, without expanded public transit service hours and a study of traffic in and near the French Quarter and Central Business District, the mayor’s compromise is ill-advised and could have negative impacts on low-income workers and other city residents.
Landrieu initially proposed to double rates for about 3,200 high-demand metered spaces in and near the CBD and French Quarter, raising them from $1.50 an hour to $3 per hour, and to hike rates elsewhere in the city from $1.50 to $2 an hour. That initial proposal also would have extended meter collection times in the evening by four hours, until 10 p.m.
After backlash from activists and some City Council members, Landrieu softened that proposal somewhat, though still keeping the higher rates.
Starting Jan. 11, he said last week, the meter rates will increase as first announced but collection times will be extended by only one hour, until 7 p.m.
The meters now collect payment from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The city also is expected to raise the fines for parking violations from $20 to $30, a move suggested by some activists and council members.
The mayor can raise the meter rates on his own, but council action will be needed to raise the fines for violations.
The new plan is a step in the right direction, the three critics — Mark Schettler, president of the New Orleans chapter of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild; Chris Lane, of New Orleans Citizens for Fair Parking; and Nick Detrich, of Cane & Table, a Decatur Street bar and restaurant — said Sunday.
But if the Landrieu administration “is positioning its parking revenue to be in line with other larger municipalities, then it should offer public transportation that is in line with those cities,” they said in a statement.
Landrieu has said that the higher meter rates are “not out of context with what’s done in other cities.”
City officials have also said that raising rates is designed primarily to increase the turnover of the on-street spaces, freeing them up more frequently and thus helping nearby businesses.
The city has said it will work with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority to expand bus service to and from the CBD and French Quarter. The RTA plans to get public input on those plans at public meetings in January and February.
But the activists said those changes should come before a parking meter hike. “We feel it’s a cart-before-the-horse response,” Lane said in an interview.
In a similar cart-horse situation, he said, the city is hiking the rates before it truly understands the CBD and French Quarter’s traffic patterns. The city’s Department of Public Works is planning such a traffic flow analysis, but he said that study will not be completed until the end of 2016.
The critics also said, as they have in the past, that the city should increase the fees that film production companies must pay for street closures.
Though those critics stand opposed to Landrieu’s latest plans, others have been supportive. Stan Harris, of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said Wednesday that he thought the compromise balanced the needs of hospitality workers and the city.
Final 5 percent raise for NOPD now in effect
The start of the new year meant the last of three pay raises for the New Orleans Police Department has gone into effect, boosting the pay for officers of all ranks by 5 percent.
Those raises follow earlier 5 percent increases that went into effect on Jan. 1 and July 1 of 2015.
In total, when compounded, police salaries have gone up by 15.8 percent, following several years in which they stayed stagnant.
Overall, a police officer making $45,000 in 2010, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office, will be making $52,093 in 2016, the city said.
The Mayor’s Office said the new salaries make NOPD officers among the highest-paid police officers in the state.
“Our dedicated police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve our community, and they deserve these pay raises,” Landrieu said. “After turning around our city finances when we took office, we have been able to stabilize our budget and give the NOPD what it needs to grow and help keep our streets safe, which is my top priority. Along with an aggressive recruitment campaign and millions of investments in the Police Department, these pay raises are intended to boost both officer retention and recruitment.”
Compiled by Jessica Williams and Bruce Eggler