Eau Claire may switch back to old winter nighttime parking rules that city staff contend work better than a policy that’s been in place for the last four years that only goes into effect after snowfalls.
The City Council will hold a public hearing Monday night before deciding on Tuesday if it wants to revive its pre-2015 ordinance that requires nightly alternate-side parking for six months each year.
Councilman Andrew Werthmann said the city changed its parking rules in fall 2015 because people were upset they had been ticketed during those six months, regardless if there was any snow on the ground.
“When we did it we received a lot of positive feedback for doing it,” he said.
The current snow parking rules go into effect for 72 hours after the city declares a major snowfall. During those three days, residents must park on one side of the street — alongside odd-numbered building addresses on odd-numbered days and the opposite side on even days — from midnight to 5 p.m.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle also was part of the 7-2 vote on Oct. 27, 2015 that approved the current winter parking rules that were intended to result in fewer fines and greater convenience for residents.
“People were having to move their cars regardless if there was a weather event,” she recalled. “And it seemed kind of cumbersome for some residents to move a vehicle when there is no weather reason to move it.”
But in recent years, the council has gotten emails complaining about treacherous conditions on streets — congestion and ice — caused in part by people who hadn’t moved their cars after snowfalls, Emmanuelle said.
City plow drivers, police and fire officials are pushing for a change back to the old rules, citing difficulty some residents have had abiding by the current policies and the resulting difficulty the city has had in completely clearing snow off streets because cars were parked on both sides. If approved by the council on Tuesday, the odd-even parking would be required from midnight to 7 a.m. nightly from Nov. 1 until May 1. The city’s Community Services Department would also get the flexibility each year to postpone that start date or end alternate side parking early in spring, depending on the weather.
Werthmann said the staff-driven effort to change the winter parking rules came after Eau Claire dealt with massive amounts of snow earlier this year.
“Last winter presented a lot of problems because of the record snow,” he said.
Last February was the roughest for drivers with a record 53.7 inches of snow falling that month — a little over half of the entire snowfall for a record-setting winter in Eau Claire. During that month, Eau Claire police ticketed 2,678 cars and had 373 towed for violating the parking rules in effect to help plows clear streets, according to a city staff report.
Based on problems people have expressed with the current policy, Werthmann said he’s leaning toward reverting back to the old rules, but wants a way to ease the burden on residents who do get fined.
He noted that one reason why he voted for the change in 2015 is that people who often use on-street parking live in older neighborhoods where homes don’t all have garages. These areas can be home to lower-income residents who may have trouble affording a $30 parking fine, Werthmann said.
“It disproportionately impacts people who can least afford it,” he said.
On Tuesday, he is planning to introduce an amendment that would allow those who get ticketed to have the option of donating food to a food pantry or doing volunteer work instead of paying a winter parking fine.
Emmanuelle encourages residents to contact their council representatives or attend Monday night’s public hearing to voice their opinions on winter parking rules.
“This decision will impact everyone’s lives,” she said.
Also on this week’s council agendas:
• Wurzer Builders and SW Properties & Investments are seeking rezoning approval for a twin home development along Jeffers Road, just west of Northwest Community Park.
• Sculpture Tour of Eau Claire is asking the city to continue allowing artwork along sidewalks in the downtown and Water Street areas for another three years.