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Editorial: It’s time for ABQ to take profit out of its parking enforcement

Even before COVID-19, Nob Hill was reeling from the slow-moving construction disaster commonly known as Albuquerque Rapid (it’s anything but) Transit, aka ART.

Even before COVID-19, Downtown was plagued by crime and aggressive panhandlers. Add that to the pandemic-required closures and post-protest vandals responsible for many of the businesses’ windows being boarded up.

Bars are now closed. There is no dining in at restaurants, and retailers are limited to 25% capacity. While parking enforcement was put on hold in April due to the pandemic, going forward, how much sense does ramped-up ticketing make in these distressed areas?

None whatsoever.

The city issued 33,321 parking citations in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30, up a whopping 35% from the previous year and 74% from two years ago. And that’s without any enforcement staff working in April or May due to the pandemic.

The crackdown/ramp-up started when the city rejected requests from merchants to continue the tradition of a month or so of free holiday parking between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead of a month, the administration of Mayor Tim Keller went with a Scrooge-like seven days.

Jacob Fox, who co-owns multiple Nob Hill businesses, said paid parking and the city’s aggressive enforcement runs counter to broader Central Avenue revitalization goals.

While it is true that some businesses have complained employees of other businesses have hogged street parking intended for customers, Fox has a common-sense suggestion: free public parking that gives people an incentive to visit this “urban center” – “at least until the demand requires some sort of control.”

So why the crackdown? When trying to figure out motives, it’s always a good idea to “follow the money.”

No exception here. The city’s Parking Division is an enterprise fund that’s supposed to pay for itself. And in fiscal 2020 it knocked down $300,000 more in revenue than it had in expenses. It gets no money from the general fund and keeps its surplus for its own initiatives. That means more money for salaries and staff – which now totals 39 employees. The city monitors 1,600 meters and about 4,100 parking spaces.

There is a need for reasonable enforcement. No question. And a spokesman says the division listens to community feedback, although in this instance not so much. But it’s bad policy for Parking to have such a survivalist, mercenary incentive to issue citations. We have gotten away from that in traffic enforcement and asset seizures, and we should do it here. Parking citation fines and revenue should go to the general fund, which should then allocate a budget for the division.

The Keller administration and City Council need to step up for some short-term relief for Downtown and Nob Hill. And more importantly, they need to move parking from a system designed to turn a profit to one designed to serve the public.

Profit motive and enforcement don’t go together in good government, and the division’s days as an enterprise fund should be numbered.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.