GALVESTON — A week from the official start of the summer season, the city still is unable to pinpoint a date when it will begin charging motorists to park along the seawall.
Officials said in August the city could begin charging parking fees by Dec. 1. But in November, the city said it planned to launch the controversial program in March, before the busy spring season, a deadline that was publicized by Houston news outlets.
In January, Assistant City Manager Brian Maxwell reiterated his belief the program could be implemented before Memorial Day, but probably not in time for spring break.
Now, city officials are sticking to “early summer,” as a nebulous time frame.
Voters approved charging for seawall parking in May 2011. But implementing it has been mired in politics and by the logistics and scope, squabbles about who would administer it and at what cost. There also have been issues to overcome with the Texas General Land Office, which is charged with ensuring public beach access. The land office nixed a plan that would have allowed a contractor to oversee the program. Agency officials argued that nearly all the money would go to the contractor, leaving little to go toward beach enhancements. State laws mandate revenue collected from beach user fees go to enhancements to the beach, which is what voters sought when they approved the measure two years ago.
And there has been the task of trying to consolidate the rules for parking in neighborhoods between the seawall and Broadway Boulevard. Some residents fear that assessing a fee on tourists will worsen a problem of visitors parking in neighborhoods near the seawall.
In January, the seawall parking plan cleared one of its largest hurdles when the city council voted to expand the size of the city’s police force and to pay four new officers out of the Galveston Island Convention Center surplus fund to administer the program.
In a May 11 email to city council members, however, City Manager Michael Kovacs said the land office had relented in an objection to paying police from parking revenues. The officers would be paid from convention center funds for the first year, but those costs would be shifted to parking revenues after that, he wrote.
The four new officers will be paid an estimated total of $265,213, according to a city proposal. Five civilian parking attendants will still be paid for by the parking revenue, officials have said.
The city has estimated it will collect $1.55 million in gross revenue from parking fees in the first year of the program.
The city will charge drivers $1 an hour for up to eight hours to park on the seawall between Sixth and 69th streets and 81st and 103rd streets. The city also will offer $25 annual passes.
Visitors to the seawall will be able to use a mobile app, the Internet or a mobile phone to pay for parking. Select businesses along the seawall will also offer payment options and annual passes. Parking transactions will be transmitted in real-time to reflect payment status to parking ambassadors and patrol cars. Parking enforcers will use license plate scanning equipment to ensure payment for parking.
City officials said Monday all the equipment and technology has been acquired. What remains to be done before implementing the program is installing signs along seawall, spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers said.
As soon as the signs are in place — there’ll be three parking signs per block for the entire length of the paid parking area — the program would begin, Rogers said.