Politics & Government

Tacoma residential parking zones could see new fees, more enforcement

What good is having a permitted parking space near your home if outsiders can’t read the signs telling them not to park there? Or if no officer comes by to ticket people who steal your spot?

The answer is not much, Tacoma city officials say. That’s partly why they’re considering changes to the residential parking permit program, which in the past 15 years has given rise to 65 parking zones in neighborhoods around the city.

At least 10 of those parking zones consist of only about two parking spots, according to a recent city survey.

City officials want to revamp the program to ensure residential zones are only in places where residents actually have to fight for on-street parking. The city also wants to make sure residential zones cover at least four contiguous blocks, not just one or two houses.

On top of that, they want to start charging annual fees of $60 per permit so they can run the program as intended: by replacing the faded or fallen signs that once warned people of parking restrictions and by paying parking officers to patrol all the zone and ticket violators.

Right now, permit holders pay a $2 one-time fee for a parking pass and never have to renew unless they lose their placard.

“That’s what doesn’t make this program sustainable,” said Dana Brown, an assistant division manager in the city’s Public Works Department. “The signs, they fade over time, they get knocked down, and the city has been subsidizing that cost.”

Each residential parking sign costs about $75 to $80 to replace, Brown said.

Under the current system, parking enforcement in residential areas is also left to police officers, who tend to get redirected to more urgent calls, Brown said. Annual parking permit fees could help pay for dedicated parking enforcement officers to enforce the rules in residential zones, he said.

Another big issue is making better use of limited parking spots throughout the city, Tacoma officials say.

Today, residential permit holders are the only ones who can park in established residential parking zones, no matter the time of day or demand on the parking spot.

Under changes proposed by an all-volunteer parking advisory group, nonresidents could park in residential parking zones temporarily during non-peak times — for instance, for two hours during daytime hours while most residents are at work.

Tacoma City Councilwoman Lauren Walker said this change could help open parking for people looking to visit businesses that border residential areas while still ensuring that residents have places to park.

Under the current system, she said, finding parking in a residential area is extremely difficult, even for people who are there to visit a resident who has a permit.

City staff are recommending that each residential permit holder be allowed 10 free guest passes under the revised rules.

“Personally, when I am looking for parking and I drive into a residential parking area, I just have to leave the area completely,” Walker said. “Being able to park there for just a couple of hours would be nice, and it won’t have as much of an effect because it’s during the day.”

City staff are still working to refine the proposed changes, which were discussed briefly this month during a meeting of the City Council subcommittee Walker chairs. Brown said the final proposal won’t be ready for full council review for some time.

Under the current plan, city staff would review all parking residential parking zones to see if they’re busy enough to merit remaining a zone.

Zones could be consolidated with other residential parking zones nearby or eliminated after two years if city staff determine the demand for parking isn’t great enough to justify a zone there, Brown said.

So far, leaders in neighborhoods with a large number of residential parking zones aren’t fighting the city’s plans.

Liz Burris, chairwoman of the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council, said she thinks the proposed annual permit fees are reasonable and that it could work to let nonresidents park temporarily in residential zones during certain times of day.

But she said city officials should be mindful that different neighborhoods have different peak times for parking. For instance, residents living downtown near University of Washington Tacoma frequently struggle to find parking during the day due to the influx of students, while residents of other neighborhoods may have their parking taken up in the evenings as visitors flock to nearby restaurants, she said.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all in this whole parking issue,” Burris said. “It depends on what the needs of the neighborhood are.”

How to be heard

Those wishing to submit comments on the residential parking program and the proposed changes can email city staff at rpp@cityoftacoma.org.