Parking along Galveston, Texas, seawall may soon have cost

Parking along seawall may soon cost you
Houstonians seeking a weekend by the sea on Galveston Island will have to pay to park on the seawall if voters approve a measure on the May 14 ballot.

Backers say the money is needed to pay for bathrooms, lighting, showers, litter control and other amenities to attract more tourists. Detractors say parking fees would drive away tourists and be consumed by parking meter maintenance and other costs.

Those trying to avoid the proposed $8-per-day fee might not be able to park in nearby neighborhoods, either. Under a police enforcement proposal, seawall neighborhood residents would be issued special permits, and all cars without them would be fined double or triple the daily seawall parking rate. Opponents of paid parking argue that conflict between tourists and residents is inevitable, even with special permits.

The parking referendum, the only city issue on the Galveston ballot, allows the city to charge $1 per hour, $8 per day or $25 for an annual permit to park on either side of Seawall Boulevard between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. The fees would be paid using parking meters or "electronic means," which Mayor Joe Jaworski says includes payment by cellphone. The city could suspend parking fees for special events such as Mardi Gras.

On wish list since 2004

The ballot measure is nearly identical to a proposal devised by the Galveston Chamber of Commerce Seawall Enhancement Committee. City Council changes include a requirement that if it passes, voters must reconsider it in seven years.

City officials have been trying to impose seawall parking fees since at least 2004.

"It's time, and I think the city is ready for it," said Jerry Mohn, who chaired the Chamber of Commerce committee that drew up the plan. The committee envisions a Seawall Boulevard with parking garages, bus stops and landscaping in one of the few coastal cities still offering free parking, Mohn said.

"The reality is it's going to take years for that to happen," he said. "We're looking for a steady stream of income so we can start getting those things."

The city estimates it should receive about $550,000 annually in seawall parking fees after expenses, city spokeswoman Alicia Cahill said.

Opposite effect predicted

Greg Roof, a Galveston College trustee who is heading Galvestonians Against Paid Parking on the Seawall, believes the income estimate is optimistic and won't pay for meter maintenance, signs and enforcement.

"I think that once tourists are driven off from Galveston, I think the program will cost the city money and not make the city money," Roof said.

He said efforts to protect neighborhoods from tourists seeking free parking are doomed, predicting that hundreds or thousands of visitors would park in nearby neighborhoods.

The lone council member to vote against putting the measure on the ballot said many of her constituents support parking fees but oppose meters because they mar the view and are inconvenient.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Beeton said her constituents suggested permits, electronic purchases or even booths where tourists could purchase vouchers.

Jaworski said the user fee is reasonable and tourists will gladly pay it.

"Twenty-five dollars is less than 10 cents a day," he said. "That's virtually free."
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