The city of Tucson takes a firm position when it comes to violations of its building code or the Americans with Disabilities Act — unless, that is, the violator is the city of Tucson.
The city has been operating a downtown dirt parking lot in violation of its own code and the federal law for years.
Many downtown workers take advantage of the low rates at the city’s Toole Lot, on the northeast corner of North Sixth and East Toole avenues.
But the lot breaks numerous major rules in the code.
Besides being unpaved, which is required of all other commercial parking lots, it lacks handicapped spots, and it doesn’t mark individual parking boundaries.
City policy requires that each department adhere to codes and ordinances.
Waivers can be granted, but none ever have been for the lot. Furthermore, city rules explicitly require compliance with the ADA, without exception.
Parkwise, which runs the lot and enforces parking regulations on others, declined comment, citing pending litigation. A claim, but no lawsuit, has been filed against the city over the violations and the impact they have on private-sector competitors.
Downtown parking lot operators consider the city’s flouting of the rule a slap in the face.
“I doubt (anyone) could get away with a vacant piece of ground and park cars on it while waiting for something to happen,” said Arizona Autoparks president Geoff Shepard.
In a further blow to neighboring commercial lots, the city also offers cut-rate prices compared to what the private sector can afford, Shepard said.
The city charges $15 the first month and $35 thereafter to park in the Toole Lot.
“When they start offering rates at a third of what the private sector is doing and don’t bear any of the costs that we do, such as real-estate taxes, that’s tremendously unfair,” he said. “It would be nice if everyone had to play fair.”
One downtown parking lot operator has had enough, and filed a claim last week seeking damages against the city.
Leon Woodward, who owns U.S. Parking Systems and filed the claim, said the city’s lower-rate pricing damages his business and has cost him 45 customers a month over the past year. As a result, he’s seeking $32,400 in lost revenue for that time period.
City Attorney Mike Rankin considers Woodward’s claim somewhat tenuous.
“Based on my initial review, I don’t believe that USPS has any legal basis for a claim of damages against the city,” Rankin wrote in an email.
Rankin said the Toole Lot is scheduled to undergo improvements in the near future and that a contract is already in place, but Woodward said the city’s been saying for years that the lot is only for the short term.
Years ago, it was slated to become part of a larger transit hub on the east side of downtown, but those plans fell through. These days, it’s a part of the Ronstadt Transit Center redevelopment plan, for which the City Council is seeking private developers.
Woodward said his issue is larger than just lost revenue.
“The city can say it’s just temporary parking,” Woodward said, “but the problem is they are inventing new zoning laws just for themselves.”