GALVESTON — Crews are installing signs and the city hopes by month’s end to be charging motorists to park along the seawall. Officials aren’t guaranteeing that, however.
Wary of missing another publicly announced deadline, officials last week wouldn’t offer an exact launch date for the program voters approved in May 2011 in hopes the revenue would pay for such beach amenities as bathrooms and showers.
The city won’t spring the fees on motorists, however, Police Chief Henry Porretto said.
“We’ll make sure there’s a media warning as soon as we’re ready to do it; there will be somewhat soft enforcement then hard enforcement,” he said.
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.
Before the program begins, the city plans an education campaign through fliers and online. The city also will send residents information in water bills about buying annual permits.
Installing signs — three per block for the entire length of the paid parking area — was the last piece of the puzzle in launching the program.
Crews last week were nearly halfway done installing 400 signs on the seawall but would break from work until Monday for the Fourth of July holiday, Porretto said. Crews have not begun installing the 675 signs meant to keep visitors from skirting fees by parking along streets in neighborhoods near the seawall.
All the signs should already have been installed and the program underway. But Houston-based Highway Technologies, which was supposed to install the signs, went bankrupt just days after the city hired it in early May. The city last month awarded the $148,300 job to Houston-based Batterson LLP.
Parking enforcers will use license plate scanning equipment to ensure payment for parking. Porretto said he didn’t anticipate problems with the technology.
‘It’s not going fast enough’
The city had hoped to launch the program Dec. 1 last year but moved the date to March — before the busy spring season — a deadline that was publicized by Houston news outlets.
City officials said they thought the program would be implemented by Memorial Day, but probably not in time for spring break.
More recently, an unofficial goal was to launch the program by the Fourth of the July weekend.
“It’s not going fast enough for me,” Porretto said. “I’d like for it to be up and running yesterday, but we had every conceivable challenge ...”
Administering the program
Since voters approved parking fees three years ago, the program has been mired in politics, logistical issues and squabbles about who would administer it and at what costs.
The Texas General Land Office, which is charged with ensuring public beach access, nixed a plan that would have allowed a contractor to oversee the program after revelations that nearly all the money would go to the contractor, leaving little for beach enhancements. State laws mandate revenue collected from beach user fees go to beach enhancements.
In January, the city council voted to expand the city’s police force and to pay four new officers out of the Galveston Island Convention Center surplus fund to administer the program.
City Manager Michael Kovacs in May said the land office had relented in an objection to paying the 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 said.
‘A lot of things have gone wrong’
Residents who voted to approve the paid parking for beach enhancements have grown inpatient.
“No one understands the magnitude of the project,” Porretto said. “A lot of things have gone wrong. It’s not even a police department function, but we took a leadership role. It’s brought us nothing but grief.”
Galveston police make 900 to 1,200 calls a month to the seawall, depending on the season, Porretto said.
“It’s a complex project, and we’re already understaffed, whether anyone wants to believe that or not,” Porretto said.
Many city departments are involved in the program, Porretto said.
The city won’t begin charging motorists to park on the seawall until all the components are in place, Porretto said.
“We don’t want to implement it in pieces,” he said. “We’re doing it right or not doing it at all. Everything is going to be ready when we open it up.”