City wrong to skirt its own rules for parking lots

2014-03-06T00:00:00Z City wrong to skirt its own rules for parking lotsArizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 06, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The uneven, gravel strewn hard-packed mess that sits on the northeast corner of North Sixth and East Toole avenues looks more like a construction site than anywhere you would want to leave your car; more vacant lot than parking lot.

It has no designated spaces, let alone anything handicapped-accessible. A section is blocked off with yellow tape and a lone portable toilet sits by the side. Yet the sign by the entrance is clear.

This is the Toole Avenue Lot — permit parking only — operated by the city of Tucson for the last two years in clear violation of the city’s own codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is a shame the lot has been open for as long as it has in such conditions, but the city has told us it is committed to improve the property and bring it up to code, including paving and ADA compliance.

While we commend the city for taking action, it shouldn’t take the threat of a lawsuit to fall in line with the law.

As reported last week by the Star’s Darren DaRonco, the lot has come under scrutiny after Leon Woodward, owner of U.S. Parking Systems, filed a claim against the city alleging unfair competition and asking for $32,400 in damages.

Woodward believes the Toole lot’s rates, which are $35 per month with a $15 first month “introductory rate,” radically undercut the $60 per month price of his nearby lot.

“Of course it’s cheaper,” Woodward said. “I have to pave, provide parking curbs, stripe, provide handicap spaces — measured precisely to city code. I have to pay property taxes, labor, insurance. ... All they do is steal my customers and pocket the money.”

As a parking-lot operator in several Southwestern cities, Woodward is no stranger to tangling with local government, including a dispute with the city of Phoenix from which he emerged victorious. He said he complained about the Tucson lot to officials before he filed his claim but felt they did not take his concerns seriously.

Woodward’s grievance is understandable, and while the city said that plans for improvements on the lot were in the works since last summer, it’s hard to believe the attention brought by his claim didn’t help push the city in the right direction.

According to Donovan Durband, administrator for Tucson’s Parkwise program, the city was trying to fill the need for downtown parking when it officially started using the lot two years ago. Durband said that for most of that time the lot has been partially used for construction staging so it didn’t make sense to fully implement improvements.

As to the $15 initial rate, Durband told us it was intended to help alleviate the hardship that downtown and Fourth Avenue merchants faced during streetcar-related construction. The city wanted to encourage employees affected by construction to try off-street parking and not use meters intended for visitors.

Parkwise never engaged in any special promotion and the reduced rate is set to expire in June, Durband said. The next least expensive monthly city parking rate is $45 at the Franklin parking lot, while City Garage on Congress Street offers a special first-time customer rate of $35.

Addressing limited downtown parking is a worthwhile effort for the city to be involved in, and Parkwise manages a third of the approximately 15,000 available spaces downtown. It is free to charge whatever it believes the market will bear and compete with private owners.

What it cannot do is operate a business without following the rules, especially in competition with those who must and do. The city should know better.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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