NEWS- Racial restrictions? Nighttime parking limits rile residents
Parking restrictions around the city have been known to raise hackles of shoppers who want more than two hours to stroll. But the signs around Friendship Court and now next to public housing on South First Street anger some people for a more serious reason: they see the restrictions as evidence of racism.
"It's discriminatory," says Eugene Williams, a 79-year-old civil rights activist and businessperson. "Nowhere else in Charlottesville do you have that sign."
Williams is referring to the ban on parking between 9pm and 5am on all four streets surrounding Friendship Court– Garrett Street, Second Street, Monticello Avenue and Sixth Street– and now along the edge of the public housing on South First Street.
"What it really does" he says, is cause people who are already powerless to feel "inferior and helpless." He notes that the restrictions prevent people who live in Friendship Court from parking around their homes in the evening while providing downtown white-collar professionals with some of the city's only free daytime parking.
Along posh North Downtown streets, the parking restrictions are almost the exact opposite of those around Friendship Court and South First. During daytime hours on streets including North First, Second and Third, most of the parking is by permit only, ensuring that the typically well-heeled residents always have access to a spot on the street.
The elimination of nighttime parking around Friendship Court was put into effect approximately four years ago, and Williams says that although he has lodged numerous complaints about the situation since then, he has been unable to find out who ordered the restrictions.
Williams, founder of Dogwood Housing, which for more than 26 years provided subsidized housing to low-income families, says city council and the city manager's office have given him the run around. "No one wants to say who gave the order for it to be done," he says.
In fact, neither City Council nor the City Manager played a role in the parking limits, according to Jeanie Alexander, the city's new head of traffic. She says her department implemented the changes at the direct request of Charlottesville Police, who were concerned with criminal activity.
Police Chief Tim Longo confirms that his department requested the restrictions as a way to combat troublesome activity in the area including loud music, fighting, vandalism, drinking, and suspected drug dealing. He insists the restrictions were not intended to target the residents of Friendship Court or South First Street and that in "most all cases" the people creating disturbances along the street were not residents.
Deirdre Gilmore, president of the South First Street Community Association, says she and other residents were surprised to see the signs go up almost three weeks ago: "It was a shocker to a lot of us." The Rev. Alvin Edwards, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church across from the housing on South First Street, says he was also surprised. "I don't know why they did it, and I did not ask," he says.
There is ample lot parking inside both neighborhoods, Longo points out, so residents have places to park. But Williams says he'd like to see documentation of how frequently such problems actually occurred, and he wonders how the Police Department can change parking regulations without any public hearing. Alexander says her department makes decision regarding parking and traffic signals based on their own research and observation as well as on requests from either the public or, as in this case, the police.
Of the new South First Street restrictions, the chief says, "I personally received complaints from residents there who have called the police because of persons who drive onto the property, park their vehicles, and either remain in the car or gather around it playing loud music, drinking, cursing, and generally creating a disturbance to those who live on the property."
But public housing activist and resident Joy Johnson, who lives at Westhaven, says no one consulted the residents of South First Street about the parking changes, and she wonders what good the parking restriction is when troublemakers can still come into the actual parking lot– despite newly implemented permit parking– or simply park across the street next to Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Johnson says she's aware that residents did call the police with complaints, but she says their requests were "about safety," not parking.
Association president Gilmore, who has lived in the South First Street housing for 13 years, says the new restrictions are a particular hardship for people who live in the units along South First and who preferred street parking to the lots because they could keep an eye on their cars after dark. Now, she says, some of those people are simply having to park further away on the street.
"I don't think they should have to do that," she says. "We should have been informed."
Longo says he's willing to open the issue for discussion. "Notwithstanding the need or practicality of the solution, the community should have been part of the discussion," he says. "If that didn't happen, I will accept responsibility for that and ensure we begin that dialogue."
"We're ready for that," says Gilmore.