City Council is spending up to $25,000 to study the financial impact of a citizen-driven ballot initiative that aims to repeal South Lake Tahoe’s paid parking program but might not pass legal muster.
The group Tahoe 4 Tahoe gathered enough signatures over several weeks to put its proposed initiative on the ballot.
City Council confronted that reality Tuesday by agreeing to hire Urban Futures Incorporated to do the study within 30 days as required by election code.
Council’s other options were to adopt the ballot initiative as-written, put the measure on the ballot or refuse to put it on the ballot and fight any legal challenge that might arise. All of those other options will remain on the table after the financial impact study is done.
On a separate-but-related track, on Feb. 18 the City Council is scheduled to reconsider the ordinance that implemented South Lake Tahoe’s paid parking kiosks. Delaying action on the financial impact study until that meeting would not leave enough time for it to be done.
“If this initiative was just to repeal (ordinance) 1049, I would have no trouble submitting that to voters. I also have problems with that ordinance and on Feb. 18 when we discuss it I will advocate some changes,” said Mayor Hal Cole.
“But that’s not what is before me. Because of the broad nature and unintended consequences, I’m not willing to adopt (the initiative) as-is or to put it to voters without an understanding of the consequences.”
The proposed initiative would prohibit South Lake Tahoe from charging for parking on city streets or in city parking lots. It would not apply to parking garages or to Ski Run Boulevard south of Pioneer Trail.
Councilwoman JoAnn Conner also questioned unintended consequences of the initiative as written.
“I don’t see any way other than to do the study,” Conner said. “People deserve to know if we proceed with this what the consequences are.”
Repealing paid parking altogether would affect budgets for city properties such as Lakeview Commons and The Campground by the Lake.
When the City Council implemented paid parking, it directed the city to use money raised from kiosks to improve areas where they are located, explained City Manager Nancy Kerry.
“Each kiosk has its own budget,” Kerry said.
The City Council also still owes about $190,000 on the paid parking kiosks it bought.
Meanwhile, City Attorney Tom Watson said court rulings show municipal parking programs in California can only be repealed through the referendum process shortly after they are enacted.
“Initiatives cannot be used to overturn parking meter regulations,” Watson said.
Some supporters of the initiative asked why Watson didn’t share that opinion earlier. Watson replied that members of Tahoe 4 Tahoe told him early on that they had their own legal counsel.
“It is not my duty to put my opinion in front of legal counsel for someone who is represented,” Watson said.
Conner also pointed out that Watson did share the findings of his legal review with the group before it turned its signatures over to the El Dorado County Election Department for certification.
Several people lined up to speak about the initiative and the course of action City Council should take.
Some people said the measure should go straight to the ballot, arguing the paid parking program is unpopular, creates a host of problems for residents, businesses and tourists and unfairly applies to only certain parts of the city.
Others spoke in favor of the program as a way to raise money for upkeep of popular city facilities.
“With better information, I believe many residents would come to understand the benefits of paid parking,” said Rachel Sigman.
City Council appointed Hal Cole and councilwoman Brooke Laine to negotiate with Tahoe 4 Tahoe to see if a compromise can be reached for them to withdraw their ballot initiative.
Conner said the city has tried to compromise with free parking at Regan Beach and on Venice Drive and Paradise Avenue.
Councilman Tom Davis said he appreciates City Council’s willingness to try to reach out for a solution. Davis said he took two Tylenol before Tuesday’s meeting because he knew he was going to get a headache and was not disappointed.
“Council is really trying to find some compromise, to reach out to the folks who signed the petition and do the right thing, whatever that is,” he said.