Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Councilman Kwanza Hall: Cancel ParkAtlanta contract

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 10:06 AM

For years, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall has fielded constituents' complaints about ParkAtlanta, the private company that enforces the city's on-street parking. Hall, who represents some of the cities' most dense neighborhoods including downtown and Old Fourth Ward, says in an op-ed that it's now time to cancel the deal. And he's even managed to find a way to work "The Walking Dead" into the conversation.

Walking Dead Season 1: Courtesy AMC
  • Courtesy AMC
  • Read the op-ed and this will make sense. Promise.
In October 2009, soon after the ink dried on a seven-year agreement with the city of Atlanta’s new privately owned parking enforcement agency, parking meters began to appear in two parts of downtown that I have the privilege to represent.

First they arrived on one block of Mitchell Street. Then they showed up in the Fairlie-Poplar neighborhood. At the time, both areas were known for their small, independent businesses and their loyal customers. Parking meters were rare and parking enforcement infrequent.

A few months later, scouts for a new AMC cable television series called "The Walking Dead" began scouring the city for sites that would scream “Zombie Urban Apocalypse!” to millions of viewers across the globe. They chose the same two locations.

By the time the dogwoods were blooming in the spring of 2010, carefully chosen blocks of the Auburn- Edgewood business corridor, Little Five Points, Midtown, Virginia-Highland, and the West End had become part of a network of newly created metered parking spaces that more than doubled the number of approved spaces in the city. These are among the most populated parts of intown Atlanta. The new spaces arrived without the review or approval of the Atlanta City Council. The contract outsourced decisions about meter and signage placement to ParkAtlanta.

By the spring of 2010, my staff and I were busy connecting the dots between a dramatic increase in constituent complaints about parking enforcement in District 2 and the arrival of ParkAtlanta’s meters, signs, and staff in a given neighborhood.

In May 2010 I introduced a 30-day moratorium on parking enforcement in the city to see if we could make things right. Council District 2 has more than 70% of the metered parking spaces in the city. (Only a few districts have any metered spaces at all.) I was pleased that my colleagues supported the moratorium.

During the moratorium, which eventually lasted most of the summer, the council’s transportation committee formed a sub-committee to review the new parking enforcement program and identify ways of improving it. My colleague, councilmember Michael Julian Bond, chaired the sub-committee with skill, fortitude, and transparency. After weeks of meetings between the city, ParkAtlanta, residents, and business owners, we approved the sub-committee’s recommendations. The recommendations included reductions in the hours and days of the week when metered parking would be enforced in various parts of town.

Just a few months later, on Halloween night 2010, "The Walking Dead" made its debut. In the first episode Rick Grimes, a small-town Georgia sheriff, awakens from a coma to discover that he is one of only a few survivors of an unexplained event that has decimated humanity, at least in metro Atlanta. Amid all the chaos and destruction, it takes him a while to figure out how he and other survivors will work together to stay alive. I empathized with Sheriff Rick then, and I empathize with him now.

In the past few months, the challenges of our current parking enforcement contract have raised their ugly head(s) again. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has covered these new questions in some detail, as have other local media. Atlanta’s 11 Alive News gathered thousands of signatures for a Parking Bill of Rights.

What keeps viewers glued to "The Walking Dead" from one episode to the next is pretty simple: Each week, the series’ writers create a clever new scenario in which Sheriff Rick and his friends confront a zombie, take the zombie out, and escape to fight another day.

As the city’s current experiment in parking enforcement begins its third season, I am convinced that our citizens have seen every episode of seasons one and two. They aren’t asking for new episodes. They want us to cancel the series.

— Kwanza Hall

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