Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian summed it up best on Tuesday: “Even in a pandemic, we can find parking debates.”
Downtown parking was the topic du jour during council’s physically distanced, broadcast meeting in a COVID-19 era. The joke came early, due to previous lengthy laps around the issue, and proved true shortly thereafter, with significant debate over how to solve the latest dilemma — that of employees taking up premium spaces after parking was made free during the pandemic.
Staff’s recommendation was simple enough — reinstate parking fees in order to move people and vehicles along. After all, staff noted, paid parking is a mechanism by which to manage parking. However, as with the fine print on a parking infraction, the devil is in the details and council debated everything from the paid parking boundaries to scope and timelines.
While council decided to resintate parking fees on streets as of Tuesday, May 19, lots and parkades will remain free for now.
Council also discussed other issues.
Issue one: the boundaries. Why charge outside of Victoria Street?
Two councillors — Kathy Sinclair and Denis Walsh — noted streets like St. Paul and Seymour are not busy and keeping them free of parking fees would provide opportunity for financial reprieve during an economic crisis. Leave the meters bagged, outside of Victoria Street, Sinclair said, and the city might even find new habits created to help solve previous parking issues. City staff, however, said concern is those who had been parking on Victoria Street would simply move a block away and the city would find itself in the same situation on Seymour or St. Paul. Thus, paid parking would return on-street, downtown-wide.
Issue two: the scope. Should the city not manage its parking in a way that suits an era of COVID-19? Sinclair championed 15-minute express stalls on Victoria Street, which were implemented prior to the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association requesting paid parking return. Sinclair told council restaurants have relied on them for takeout orders, with their dining rooms closed during the pandemic. With reopening anticipated, Sinclair said those restaurants will likely continue to rely on takeout more than they did before, amidst a new normal, due to physical-distancing requirements that will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
In addition, Coun. Sadie Hunter wondered how the city’s potential shuttering of Victoria Street to vehicular traffic would fit into the equation. CAO David Trawin, however, said that issue continues to be explored with the province, with respect to whether doing so would constitute a “gathering.”
Though the latter idea remains in limbo, Sinclair did find enough support from council to waive parking fees on 15-minute express zones downtown for the time being, which passed by the slim width of a coin that plugs a parking meter — 5-4.
Councillors Walsh, Hunter, Sinclair, Dieter Dudy and Mike O’Reilly voted in favour, while Mayor Christian and councillors Dale Bass, Bill Sarai and Arjun Singh were opposed. Sarai said he thought the initiative would do more harm than good, opining that people picking up takeout would be able to afford a dollar to grab the meals. He also raised the issue of possible confusion regarding which businesses can have a free stall in front of their storefronts.
The third issue was timelines. With on-street parking taken care of, council was left wondering about a proposed second phase of parking fee reintroduction — parkades. Currently free, staff suggested fees begin in July. However, council expressed concern over how that timeline might jibe with the pandemic going forward and opted to reconsider parkades at a later date. Council unanimously supported a suggestion to postpone, resulting in city parkades continuing to be free.
“We will hear back from you on the 15th of July,” Christian said.