Free parking on December 18 and 24/Photo: amlz on Flickr

By Eric Klein

At last night’s City Council meeting, council members voted for a city-wide parking holiday to spur Christmas shopping on Saturday, December 18 and Friday, December 24. All metered spaces will be free, and no parking tickets will be given for those metered spaces.

City Manager Phil Kamlarz strongly advised the council against the plan, warning that the parking holiday would be a logistical nightmare for staff, but in the end the drive to throw a bone to Berkeley’s struggling merchants this holiday season won over all arguments to the contrary.

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli wrote the original proposal, which included other recommendations to help local businesses. “I apologize to staff. I know that changing the procedures and the rules is a real pain,” Capitelli said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “But there are a couple of messages going out here. One is that we are inviting customers to our commercial districts. Two, we’re sending a message to our small businesses, saying ‘we are hearing your concerns, and we do want to respond to them’.”

Capitelli had originally proposed two meter-free days for December 11 and 18, the  busiest shopping days of the year, with a two-hour time limit. But the 11th was determined to be too soon to force staff to implement the changes, and the two-hour limit had its own complications, including the need to post temporary signs throughout the city and sending mixed signals to motorists.

“If we give people a break on the hourly parking, and they end up getting a ticket for $40, what kind of break have they gotten?” asked Councilmember Max Anderson, who argued successfully for making the parking holiday largely free of tickets.

Mayor Tom Bates agreed with the spirit of the parking holiday, but expressed strong concerns. “I sincerely appreciate where the council members are coming from,” Bates said. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying we should do it with our eyes wide open.” The Mayor wanted to give City Manager Kamlarz a week to come back with a report on the impact of the parking holiday before it was implemented.

Kamlarz estimated off the top of his head that the city would lose between $20,000 and $50,000 in meter and ticket revenue for each of the two days. Kamlarz said that in past years, parking holidays for the winter shopping season were tried and abandoned. He mentioned other logistical hurdles, including the need to bag every meter in the city, but in the end the majority of council would not be turned back.

In a rare political moment in the history of the city, Mayor Tom Bates was joined in voting against the plan by councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, frequent opponents of the mayor, who agreed that the complexities of the plan and rushed timeline were good enough reasons to try the parking holiday at a later date.

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