The City of St. Augustine Beach did not notify or consult the residents about their paid parking plans, even though they have been passing ordinances and working to implement this for over a year. Is it a coincidence that our first notice was after the election? According to a recent online poll, approximately 95 percent of residents did not know about the scheme, and 100 percent were against it. Now that we are asking questions and voicing our concerns, our voices are being suppressed, and public requests for documents are being ignored.
There is a disconnect between the city and its residents. Why? I blame the city manager’s office. If they had notified the residents a year ago when this effort was conceived, we wouldn’t be here now. There should have been workshops, discussions and suggestions with the community to determine if this was a viable idea before spending city resources and wasting all of our time.
The most pressing issues need to be resolved now.
1. We need a homogenous parking program. It is imperative that the city has the same vendor as the county, because of adjacent property lines. Anything else would confuse and aggravate visitors.
2. We need proper notification. Property owners deserve due process.
3. We need to clarify property rights. The ownership of the plazas and right-of-way are in dispute. The city government claims exclusive ownership, but has denied numerous public requests to prove ownership. This is violation of state Sunshine Laws.
4. We need equal application of the law. The proposed paid parking plan does not apply to businesses and residents equally. Many businesses currently use the plazas for their own parking.
5. We need ADA compliance. The city is required to accommodate up to 12 van-sized parking spots for vehicles with wheelchairs. There are currently no plans to accommodate the disabled.
6. We need a complete financial business plan. How much is this going to cost?
The short answer: a lot. Here’s a breakdown. Enforcement personnel will have to be hired and provided salaries, benefits, insurance, training and supervision, not to mention new vehicles, insurance, maintenance, and the additional burden on our police department to defend violations in court. There will be court and administrative costs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be required up-front for improvement to existing parking spaces. There will be legal challenges on constitutional grounds.
We will lose visitors, who may never return after realizing they now have to pay to park in their favorite beach city. The city will be collecting parking fees from residents at a discount, which will drop the average rate collected significantly.
When we account for all the real costs of this proposal, I believe we will see that it will negatively impact visitors, property owners, residents, business owners and their employees. And it is not likely to generate revenue at all. We actually stand to lose money. The point is, we don’t know because there is no financial business plan and we don’t want it anyway.
St. Augustine Beach is one of the top beach destinations in the country, and we should not be begging and scheming for revenue. We are so mismanaged that we don’t have funds to fix the roof of City Hall or maintain our own streets. We need—and deserve—a city that works for the people, a city that is accountable and transparent. We should not be looking for new ways to tax the residents, businesses and visitors for paid parking lots. No, thank you! The community is telling the commissioners to PARK IT.
Dean is the owner of Island Builders of North Florida and administrator of the Facebook page No Paid Parking in SAB. He built his forever home in St. Augustine Beach nearly 30 years ago to get away from the taxes, traffic and over-development of Southern California.