GALVESTON — If you want to park on Seawall Boulevard during Mardi Gras, you’re going to have to pay for it.
The City Council on Thursday shot down a motion that would have waived parking fees on the road during the annual event.
In doing so, council members acknowledged that their elected predecessors may have intended to make certain times free of charge, but they never followed through. Now three years later, the council said they valued potential parking revenues over the promises made in a past election.
The vote to deny the ordinance to waive parking fees was passed 5-0.
Before making the vote, council members said they believed the public was more supportive of keeping the fee than of waiving it.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people and their comments have been ‘Don’t let those parking spots go for free,’” District 6 Councilwoman Marie Robb said.
The thought was echoed by Mayor Lewis Rosen and District 1 Councilwoman Cornelia Harris Banks. The other popular theme for the council members was the challenge between lifting parking rules and raising money for amenities along the seawall.
“People want things for free, and yet they want amenities,” said District 4 Councilman Norman Pappous. “Many of these people spend thousands of dollars on their Mardi Gras celebrations. I don’t think $25 is onerous.”
Two council members, Terrilyn Tarlton and Rusty Legg, were absent from the meeting. At a previous meeting, both Tarlton and Legg said they believed that the city should honor the intentions of the previous council.
It does appear clear the council that was in office when the parking program was approved in 2011 intended for parking to be free during two of the city’s most popular annual events, Mardi Gras and the Lone Star Rally.
During Thursday’s meeting, the council watched parts of a recording from the March 11, 2011, council meeting during which the ballot language for the seawall vote was devised.
During the meeting, then-Councilwoman Diana Puccetti broached the idea of free parking during the event.
“I’m wondering if we need to add an exemption or do some rewording so that we would have the latitude to not restrict that parking,” Puccetti said.
That council ultimately decided to add a line to the ballot language that could lift parking during special events by ordinance.
In an email Thursday, former Mayor Joe Jaworski said in 2011, the council intended for there to be free parking during at least part of Mardi Gras.
“The intent was not to charge for parking during at least the first weekend of Mardi Gras,” Jaworski said. “It’s clear that in the moments before we voted, our intention was not to charge for parking during these events; our intention was not to keep our options open and address it at a later time.”
Jaworski went on to acknowledge that details of the parking program had changed since it was initially devised.
“The current council is under fire due to the program’s unbalanced revenue and expense, so the expected $30,000 revenue for the weekends of Mardi Gras this year has taken on heightened value,” Jaworski said.
District 3 Councilwoman Elizabeth Beeton, who was on the council with Jaworski and Puccetti, said enough had changed about the parking plan in terms of costs that the intentions from 2011 were irrelevant.
“What was put on the ballot for voters was that those special events would be determined by ordinance at a later date,” Beeton said. “The fact that one council member or another anticipated which of those special events it would be isn’t dispositive.”
Beeton said that the previous council should have immediately passed an ordinance regarding Seawall parking immediately after it was passed by voters if they had seriously intended to make Mardi Gras free.
After launching on July 27, the parking program brought in $176,681 from sales of passes during its first five months of operation. City officials have acknowledged that the numbers are lower than originally anticipated, and the city has lowered its revenue expectations for the first year of operation.
During Mardi Gras, parking will cost its normal rates, $1 per hour for the hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. An annual pass is also available for $25.