Updated at 3:07 p.m.
As we mentioned yesterday, the freshly inaugurated city council is set to approve a booting ordinance after the Economic Development Committee voted unanimously June 16 to put a modified version of the staff recommendation on tomorrow's addendum. This didn't make the Save Deep Ellum coalition happy, as they sent out fliers claiming, "The parking companies have hired a high-priced lobbyist in order to get their way."
Friend of Unfair Park "Mark" speculated that the lobbyist in question was none other than Carol Reed, Mayor Tom Leppert's top political consultant. We heard the same thing from several different sources, and a call to Reed confirmed that her daughter, Laura Reed Martin, is handling the account. Chris Heinbaugh, the mayor's chief of staff, just told us that Leppert will not be recusing himself from the vote.
"The Reeds are working on it, but I have no clue what we're doing," Carol says. "I know the parking people want to go to a receipt thing -- that's as much as I know -- but for some of the small lots, it's pretty hard to do."
Indeed, the issue at hand isn't so much that people outright oppose booting, they just want to have the comfort of knowing they'll have a receipt as proof they paid to park. That's how folks in Houston felt too when the booting companies started taking over downtown, and the ordinance there requires parking lot booters to issue customers a receipt.
Martin, who is also council member Dave Neumann's consultant, sent us a copy of a letter sent to council members, which urges them to approve the ordinance without requiring parking lots to issue receipts. The full missive is below, and the argument is made that no such requirement is placed on towing, and forcing smaller lots to pay for a machine or attendant to provide receipts would be a "financial burden."
John Brunk, assistant director of Public Works and Transportation, at the June 1 briefing of the Transportation and Environment Committee stressed that discussions with downtown and Deep Ellum stakeholders resulted in the staff recommendation to require receipts. At the end of the meeting, committee chair Linda Koop said there would be a second special meeting on the issue because there were "too many outstanding questions."
Yet the same PowerPoint seen by Koop's committee June 1 was shown to economic development two weeks later. And the Economic Development Committee completely disregarded the staff suggestion to require receipts, adding a provision to allow booting companies to "a video audit procedure" as proof of nonpayment, giving alleged violators nothing other than their word to convince booters that they paid up.
Debbie Brown, Linda Koop's assistant, tells Unfair Park that the second special meeting wasn't called because Koop and committee member Ron Natinsky spent time traveling, which compromised a quorum. Other committee meetings made scheduling one before the inauguration impossible, she adds, so it was agreed that economic development would weigh in. Brown doesn't know Koop's stance on the amended ordinance, and Koop is out of the office today.
Speaking of the ordinance, we found one teensy problem in Section 48C-37.
(a) A licensee commits an offense if he, either personally or through an employee or agent:
(1) directly or indirectly gives anything of value, other than a sign or notice required to be posted under this chapter, to a parking lot owner in connection with the immobilization of a vehicle on the parking lot; or ...
The parking lot companies hire booting companies to ensure people are paying for parking without having to pay someone to monitor the lot, and the money they save no doubt is considered "value." Are we missing something?
Of course, pay machines have caused their own problems as we've seen, leading us to continue to wonder why no one is calling for an outright ban of the practice.
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As Angela Hunt told us: "The problem with booting is it's easy to implement, but it's a severe measure for the driver, particularly when it's implemented wrongly."
The letter sent to council members from The Reeds:
Since March, Hawkeye Parking Enforcement, Premier Parking Enforcement, Parking Company of America - Dallas, Inc. and LAZ Parking have participated in a discussion with city staff and council members in order to develop a vehicle immobilization ordinance that not only protects the City and its citizens, but also allows small businesses to continue to operate and protect their personal investments. While these companies are competitors in the market place, they share a common interest in creating an ordinance that protects all interested parties.
Booting is a relatively new tool used by parking lot operators in order to enforce paid parking on their lots. Prior to booting, a vehicle would be removed (towed) from a lot for nonpayment. Booting, as you might imagine, is seen as less egregious to the vehicle owner both monetarily and in terms of convenience. The cost is a third less than towing, the car is not removed, and there is no chance of vehicle damage.
Yesterday, the Governor signed legislation that will regulate the vehicle booting industry. The city's proposed ordinance and the state legislation recognize this new tool available to the parking industry as an alternative to towing.
Throughout the process of developing the ordinance, the major issue that emerged was a requirement of an electronic pay station on each lot in order to be able to use booting as an enforcement tool. Note that this requirement is not placed on a management company's ability to tow. In other words, a car could be towed but not booted on a lot that does not offer a receipt from an attendant or an electronic pay station.
Requiring parking lot managers to install this expensive equipment or forfeit their right to enforce payment is extremely onerous on small businesses that operate and manage these lots. In addition to the financial burden this places on small business, requiring this expensive equipment on all lots (if a company wishes to enforce paid parking) will never make economic sense on small lots or lots with low volume. Also, please keep in mind that in many instances the operator does not own the land. Parking management companies operate under a contract with land owners and are cancelable within 30 days.
Currently, on lots that do not have an electronic pay station, manual pay boxes are audited several times a day by a video camera. I have attached the step-by-step process that these companies perform prior to a boot being placed on a vehicle.
We understand protecting business interests. A restaurant owner does not enjoy listening to an irate customer who has just had their car booted. But, a company that relies on parking revenue must have an avenue to protect their investment. If a restaurant patron attempted to walk out on a check, how does the restaurant owner respond? How is not paying for parking any different?
We fully support the licensing, permitting, grievance process, response time limits, and one year review. We understand that operating in the City of Dallas requires us to be accountable to the public and to the city. We fully believe the video auditing process works to protect these interests and encourage you to maintain the ability to continue to boot on lots that retain a manual pay station.
Thank you for you consideration on this issue and we encourage you to support the recommendation from the Economic Development Committee.