The topic of parking in downtown Ottawa dominated an hour-long forum conducted by Mayor Bob Eschbach on Thursday night in City Hall.
About two dozen people attended, half of whom were city officials or employees, including all the City Council members and Police Chief Brent Roalson.
Eschbach started out by recalling after he took office nearly 20 years ago the parking meters in the downtown were removed to make the downtown more “consumer friendly” and counter the criticism that parking at shopping malls was free.
“The whole purpose of limiting parking is to keep those spaces open for customers, diners — people who are using downtown,” he said. “Not for employees — not for courthouse employees in particular — not for the owners of buildings and businesses.”
Eschbach said it used to be two hours was enough time for “99 percent” of the people using downtown. But as the downtown began to flourish, the council adopted a parking validation program that is still in effect.
Parking Validation Forms
Eschbach said the city gives shop owners parking validation forms they can issue to customers who have received tickets for overtime parking.
“They put it in that little yellow envelope and put it in the yellow box or drop it off at city hall and the ticket goes away,” Eschbach said. “It’s only for overtime parking — not for just any offense.”
The city also provides window signs for merchants participating in the validation program.
Longer parking times
There were suggestions the parking time be extended from two to three hours.
Examples were given where parking times of over two hours were appropriate, Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut cited people parking to see a movie at Roxy Cinemas. A businesswoman said it would be appropriate for a woman undergoing a lengthy treatment at a beauty shop.
Gary Carlson of Carlson Auto Body on Main Street enumerated the circumstances of several tickets received for vehicles parked near his business, including one because a vehicle was temporarily blocking the driveway to his shop.
“People are afraid to come down and get an estimate,” he said. “I don’t know how much business I’ve lost because of it.”
“If it’s his driveway, why are we giving people a ticket for parking in his driveway,” Commissioner Dan Aussem said.
Eschbach said he shared that feeling.
Carlson asked about having a currently undesignated parking spot in front of his shop where people now get tickets be marked for short-term parking for his business.
Commissioner James Less acknowledged there is a spot in front of Carlson’s business that has no designation. He said it could be striped as a parking spot, but it would have to be available for anyone to use.
Eschbach said the city is open to more short-time parking spaces, like the two next to the Ottawa Bakery at Madison and Court streets.
“Those parking spaces can be used 20 times a day instead of three times a day,” he said. “But it’s not just for the bakery: Anybody can park there.”
Courthouse employee parking
Eschbach said an ongoing problem in the downtown district is business employees who take up prime downtown parking spots by shuffling their car locations every two hours.
One businessman cited the employees of the La Salle County courthouse as daily offenders.
“There are 50 parking spots on Court Street and 20 of them are already reserved for courthouse employees, and they’re taking the rest of them,” including the two handicapped spots, he said.
Eschbach noted the city has a free permit parking lot south of the Jordan block for downtown employers, employees and residents. Some county employees park there.
Aussem advocated replacing the reserved spots with two-hour parking.
He said he could “kind of see the judges maybe having (reserved) spots, but the whole rest of that street — the superintendent of schools, the dog catcher — I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
Seven of the 18 reserved parking spaces on Court Street are for judges.
Aussem said he was told the court bailiffs ticket other vehicles in the
“I don’t know if that even would be valid,” Roalson said. “The Court Street parking spots are the city’s.”
The businessman also said courthouse employees come out every two hours to rotate their cars and occupy street parking spots all day.
Roalson confirmed that the courthouse employees have a street parking rotation system to make continuous use of downtown street parking spots.
“If they park on LaSalle Street for two hours then they move to Main, they move to Court, they move to Madison,” he said.
Roalson said that process could only be halted with a city ordinance change.
County Board Commissioner Tom Walsh, D-Ottawa, who was present, was called on to comment.
Walsh said at one time employees were given letters telling them not to practice rotating parking.
“They don’t have any problem telling the jurors where to park,” Eichelkraut said. He noted elected city officials do not have reserved spots at City Hall and sometimes get parking tickets which they pay.
Eschbach proposed a meeting with county officials.
“I think that’s a great suggestion,” Walsh said.
Tone’s Cones traffic problems
A businesswoman asked what could be done about the traffic backups at Tone’s Cones on Main Street by cars in, or waiting to get in, the drive-up window lane.
“We try to move them,” Roalson said. “But, unfortunately, when we move five of those vehicles five more follow.”
Eschbach’s follow-up comment drew a laugh from the crowd.
“If you look at it the right way, it’s kind of a quaint, unique small town thing,” he said.