Before permanently moving to the island in 2017, we used to take a 90-minute to two-hour drive from the northwest side of Houston and spent many a weekend enjoying the beach and downtown. A lot of times we made day trips.
One of the main reasons we kept coming back to the island was available cost. It didn’t cost anything to park on the seawall, and you could find no-pay downtown parking if you looked. You just had to get to the island early enough to get one of the available parking spaces. And we hardly ever went to Stewart Beach; why pay for parking when the rest was available for free?
When the pay to park on the seawall system went into place we started cutting back on the day trips. As the new amenities began to appear our thought was maybe the cost wasn’t so bad with the improvements being made. With the announcement of raising the seawall parking fee it became clear that the objective wasn’t to create a better island experience it was a money grab.
It makes me wonder how $6.8 million in grants and gifts can be spent on the present improvements, but the parking fees that were supposed to be for these improvements ($828,101 fiscal year 2017-18) are spent on “personnel, materials, and supplies...” at the rate of 70 percent of the take. I’d be curious to see the breakdown in those three categories — especially on the personnel side.
On the surface it appears that our elected officials have created an unsustainable business model, and this next round of fee increases and paid parking expansion is just the beginning.
People aren’t avoiding Stewart Beach because of the amenities, they’re avoiding it because of the cost. That’s why people are changing their beach patterns to the West End of the island; to get away form the additional fees and charges.
The mayor’s comments that the rise in people using the West End justifies building out amenities there is ridiculous. And to try and justify the increase by pointing to “transactional costs” is just as absurd.
I think our elected officials need to “slow their roll” on fees and expansion before they price the island out of the range of the normal visitors and residents.