The Galveston City Council was justified in its skepticism about a valet parking ordinance that appeared on the agenda for a vote, apparently out of nowhere, last week.
The proposed ordinance outlines creation of a valet parking license, which would require businesses to pay an annual fee and set standards about how many public street spaces operators could use.
City council members unanimously decided to postpone voting until the new year over concerns and confusion about the ordinance’s application.
“We clearly need to workshop this,” said District 3 Councilman David Collins.
Workshop sessions are where council members, administrators and other stakeholders dig into issues, consider consequences, ask and have questions answered, or at least identify questions that need answers.
Collins was right that this one could use some of that, raising, as it does, numerous questions in need of answers.
The first of those very well might be how this ordinance became an action item without having been through a workshop in the first place.
Another is what problem exactly is the ordinance meant to address. It appears from the discussions at last week’s meeting that it would apply to pretty much nobody operating valet parking now, but might become relevant if there were to be a spike in valet operations.
The city marshal’s office apparently put the item on the agenda and the proposed ordinance argues that “regulations pertaining to valet parking have been requested as a needed service in the City of Galveston.”
The justification, cast, like a lot of governmentese, in subject-less passive voice raises questions such as who has, and how many whos have, been requesting this ordinance.
The biggest problem, however, is that the ordinance appears to give business owners, through valet operators, a special deal on parking their customers in metered public spaces.
The ordinance appears to propose allowing valet operators to pay a $750 annual permit fee and $250 for each public parking space they used, rather than feeding the meters like everybody else must do.
Obviously, the ordinance would apply mostly in the island’s downtown, where most of the public spaces are metered and where parking fees are a perennial sore spot among both residents and visitors.
So, another question is whether the annual fees would make up for revenue the city lost by not collecting hourly fees.
And there’s a deeper question of cost associated with this idea. How much ill will would granting downtown business owners a special deal on downtown parking cause among the voters who early next year will be asked to consider reauthorizing the seawall parking program?
It was, after all, downtown business owners who demanded the parking fees in the first place.
She probably wasn’t thinking about the coming seawall parking sun-set referendum, but District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly’s words last week apply anyway.
“It just sounds like a recipe for disaster,” she said.
Mayor Jim Yarbrough also was correct in arguing business owners wanting to use metered public parking spaces should pay the daily rate
A final question is why valet operators would need to use public parking spaces at all, existing as there are numerous private parking lots that are near empty at night.
Why not strike a business-to-business deal for those and leave the public spaces for the general public?
• Michael A. Smith