A citizens’ group has turned in 1,422 signatures for a proposed ballot initiative that aims to end most paid parking in South Lake Tahoe.
With title and initiative language from the city, Tahoe 4 Tahoe gathered the signatures in about three weeks. The group wants the initiative on the June primary ballot.
El Dorado County Elections Office has 30 days to determine whether enough of the signatures are from properly registered city voters to make the initiative eligible for the ballot, said Linda Webster, assistant registrar of voters.
Meanwhile, a potential legal roadblock in the group’s effort emerged this week.
City Attorney Tom Watson shared with the group superior and appellate court rulings indicating cities’ paid parking programs cannot be overturned through the initiative process.
Watson found the cases through a quick legal review as the group’s signature drive gained momentum.
“There’s legal authority that initiatives cannot be used to eliminate parking meters,” Watson said. “The most recent case was in Ventura County in 2011, but they go as far back as 1967, I believe. (California) Vehicle Code is clear that meters can be removed by referendum, not by initiative.”
Referendums can be undertaken to repeal an ordinance within 30 days of its adoption.
Bruce Grego, an attorney and former member of the South Lake Tahoe City Council who is working with Tahoe 4 Tahoe, said he hasn’t studied the court cases, calling that a premature issue.
The group is moving forward with its effort to put the proposed initiative on the June or November ballot, Grego said.
If allowed on the ballot and approved by city voters, the proposed initiative would prohibit paid parking in South Lake Tahoe except at city-owned garages and along Ski Run Boulevard south of Pioneer Trail.
“Here we have 1,422 voters saying we don’t like this (paid parking) program. The city still has to recognize that. Many times council races are decided by less votes than that,” Grego said, referring to upcoming city elections and the extent to which paid parking could become a campaign issue.
“I think a dialogue will develop between the committee and the City Council. We have at least got their attention.”
There are also financial aspects of potentially unwinding the city’s paid parking program.
City Manager Nancy Kerry recently estimated that terminating the program today would cause a $600,000 hole in the city budget with lost revenue and expenses and about $190,000 still owed for the city’s parking kiosks.
Grego also called the finances a secondary issue.
“It won’t be the first time a government made a misstep and it cost taxpayers money,” he said. “If there’s a way to mitigate it, we should look at that. But I think they should have been more careful in the way they proceeded with this program.”
Watson said the South Lake Tahoe City Council wants to listen to the community about the city’s paid parking program. A discussion of the program is scheduled for February.
“I believe the council is listening to the community. That’s why we’re going to have that discussion to really look at what all the options are,” Watson said.