Good evening Members of the Select board:
My name is Philip Garrow, and I have been a resident of Amherst for more than twenty years, and a property owner here for more than sixteen of those years. I have also run a business here in Amherst, and I am here tonight to talk about the way that parking enforcement makes living in Amherst and doing business here more difficult.
Parking problems in Amherst have been going on for a long time. Several years ago, I spoke with Barry Del Castiho about this, and at that time he agreed there was a problem in Amherst with parking over-enforcement. I have been ticketed in Amherst so frequently that now I just do business elsewhere. It is simply easier to drive to the mall than risk getting fined here.
What has sparked my renewed interest in Amherst parking, is a ticket that I recently received. Despite my vigilance I was unable to avoid breaking the law. I appealed this ticket and I lost. I hate this experience. Everyone hates this experience. And everyone who parks in Amherst gets ticketed, inevitably. There is something wrong with a law that makes everyone a violator.
And these ticketing practices are widely recognized by people in the area. I recently saw a bumper sticker, which read, “Visit Amherst, Get a Parking Ticket!” This sentiment is not helping anyone.
Then, once ticketed, the only option for appeal, is to speak with Clare McGinnis in the Amherst parking office, on one of the two days a month that she hears appeals. The long line for appeal can take hours to get through. And when you do speak with her, I have found that she is more interested in defending the actions of her ticketing staff, than judging the conditions surrounding a particular ticket. She knows that beyond her decision, the only next level appeal is to file a civil action against the town of Amherst in Superior court. The filing fee for this civil action is $275.00. And if one wins the action one can then recover only the $8.00 fine. There is no intermediate appeal process.
Still, I might have sued the town to contest this particular ticket, except that I didn’t think that it would help to solve the underlying problem. When I spoke with Clare McGinnis she told me that the only way to change parking enforcement in Amherst is through community action. Apparently, she feels too powerless in her little office here in the Town Hall to have any effect on the way that these laws are applied, and she is willing to call out to anyone who will listen that she needs help changing these unjust policies.
Barry Del Castiho told me that the purpose of these parking laws is to keep UMass students from leaving their cars in the few downtown parking spaces during the business day. I have made calls, and I now understand why trying to regulate students with parking tickets will not be effective, even with rigorous over-enforcement. The $8.00 fines being charged in the town center are less then the $10.00 per day parking fees on the UMass campus.
So, what I have done is to find the person on campus who is responsible for setting these parking rates. And I was surprised to learn that he is completely willing to adjust parking rates on the UMass campus to relieve the pressure that the students are putting on downtown parking. Furthermore, he has been trying to set up a meeting with the Town of Amherst parking enforcement to discuss these matters for years, unsuccessfully. You have each been provided his contact information.
The over-enforcement of these laws is not just an inconvenience. It contributes to the increased property taxes of Amherst property owners. As reported on the front page of the Amherst Bulletin, increased taxes are being disproportionately weighted to residences instead of businesses. But we are then working against ourselves when we harass customers who come to Amherst, driving them away from the town center, the place where we want them to be.
This over-enforcement is also an affront to me as an Amherst resident. My girlfriend was ticketed while sitting in a parking space in front of Antonio’s pizza. And my attorney was ticketed while sitting in his car in a loading zone, while his assistant unloaded boxes from his car. I have even seen a ticket being put on a running UPS truck. How can this promote business in Amherst?
I have two suggestions for improving parking matters for town residents.
First, if you see your car being ticketed, or immediately just having been ticketed, the enforcement person should be given the discretionary ability to take back that ticket without affecting their ticket quota.
It should be part of the job of town employees to be ambassadors-of-goodwill to business patrons. I have repeatedly seen tickets being written to people as they return to their cars. If the point of issuing parking tickets is to keep customer traffic moving in the business district, what possible merit is there to fine people as they are leaving?
And, since parking regulations are ultimately intended to serve the residents of the town, another idea, is to allow property owners in Amherst to have up to three tickets a year forgiven to them at the Central Records desk in the town hall. This would be another way to enforce the sprit of the law, not just the letter of the law.
In summation, the over-enforcement of parking regulations here in Amherst discourages commerce, driving business elsewhere. We need to have a better appeal process, and there needs to be community action taken to resolve this matter as recommended by Clare McGinnis. Attempting to regulate students with parking tickets will not be effective without working with UMass to adjust parking rates on campus. And failure to attend to these matters is increasing the property taxes in Amherst and is not helping local businesses. I believe that Amherst laws should be for the people of Amherst and I am willing to work toward this goal. To this end I have filed my application to the reconstituted Amherst Parking Commission / Task-Force.
Thank you for your time this evening.