Mayor Mitch Landrieu signaled Wednesday that a compromise may be in the works to settle concerns over one of the most controversial parts of his operating budget for next year: higher parking meter rates.
Taking questions during an end-of-the-year news conference at City Hall, the mayor avoided laying out any specifics but said negotiations with the plan’s opponents are underway.
“We’re in discussion now, listening to people’s concerns, trying to find a way,” he said. “And in the next couple weeks, we’ll come up with something that works, and I’m sure people are going to be unhappy with it no matter what we do.”
Landrieu’s plan called for raising meter rates from $1.50 an hour to $3 an hour in the French Quarter and the Central Business District, and from $1.50 to $2 per hour everywhere else in the city. On top of that, meter collection times would be extended by four hours in the evening, to 10 p.m.
The Mayor’s Office portrayed the moves as a way to encourage more efficient use of limited parking spots rather than as a means of raising revenue, although the changes were expected to bring in an extra $4.3 million a year.
Whatever compromise is worked out, some type of hike is almost certainly coming. A rate increase “is not rocket science; it’s not something that’s done out of context with what’s done in other cities,” Landrieu said.
Even so, the plan has encountered fairly broad resistance. Four of the seven City Council members have said they oppose it, along with business owners, service employees and musicians who worry it could hurt low-income workers who use meters daily.
The mayor can raise meter rates as high as $3.75 an hour under existing city laws without going to the council, but Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has floated the idea of trying to pass a lower cap. She has spoken out against the increases along with council members Jared Brossett, Susan Guidry and Nadine Ramsey.
A coalition of businesses and individuals has suggested a smaller, across-the-board hike of 50 cents per hour, along with higher fines for illegal parking and higher fees for film productions that block streets. The group is against extending the hours at all.
Guidry’s office released a statement Wednesday saying she is pushing the option of bigger fines for parking violations in return for keeping the hours of operation as they are, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“My preference would be to put the burden on violators rather than those who live and work in the affected areas,” she said.
Petitions against the changes have garnered about 1,700 signatures, according to Chris Lane, of New Orleans Citizens for Fair Parking, a group that opposes the changes.
Mark Schettler, president of the New Orleans chapter of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, said he is cautiously optimistic. “As with anything in politics, you believe it when you see it, and we will take our foot off the pedal when that happens. But it’s definitely reassuring,” he said of talk of a compromise.
Though the higher rates were slated to go into effect with the new year, Landrieu said Wednesday that nothing will change until a new plan is finalized.
Jeff Adelson contributed reporting. Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, at @jwilliamsNOLA.