The city of Galveston’s plan for parking on the seawall is in such a mess I thought it was hopeless.
I was wrong.
I sat with the coffee drinkers at Vic Fertitta’s table at the Hilton on the seawall the other day. It’s a good group — former council members, a former police chief, guys who know business.
I asked how the city’s plan could be saved, thinking it would be a monumental task. Actually, it took about 5 minutes.
If you’ve missed this controversy, here’s the background. Voters authorized the city to charge for parking on the seawall. No one likes to pay, but the majority wanted a source of revenue for amenities. Voters specified they wanted to see improvements they could touch and feel — restrooms, water fountains, showers.
They did not want the money to disappear into bureaucracy in the form of new salaries and benefits at City Hall.
The council that cut this deal disappeared in what will become known as the long and disastrous war concerning public housing. The new council hired four police officers to enforce the parking plan, which was fine except that voters had specifically said they did not want to see this money disappear into more salaries and benefits.
Voters wanted to see restrooms, fountains and showers. What voters saw instead was a bait-and-switch.
It looked like a hopeless mess to me. So I was surprised how quickly the group at the Hilton cleaned it up.
Here’s their outline:
• First, forget about the four police officers. Move on. But do not carry those salaries on the books of the parking plan. Move them into the general fund where they belong. If Galveston doesn’t want to pay for additional security through property taxes, reduce the ranks and expenses through attrition.
• Second, get police out of the parking business. Police officers are far more expensive — especially when you consider the benefits — than parking attendants. The labor costs to enforce seawall parking were estimated at $300,000 for attendants or $600,000 for certified officers. Put the money back where people want it. Build restrooms.
• Third, realize that the parking attendants on the seawall and those downtown are really in the same business. Realize the efficiencies that come by putting seawall attendants to work during big events downtown and vice versa.
• Finally, put the money where the city promised voters it would go.
Some members of the City Council think their plan for seawall parking is going well. They think the public is buying the explanation that police officers really are “amenities.”
About 70 percent of the people who contact The Daily News don’t see amenities. They see a bait-and-switch. They see broken promises.
We could argue that point until the next election — I’m up for it if you are. But perhaps council members will see that the guys who drink coffee at the Hilton have offered them something of great value — a plan that will work.