NEWS- Racial restrictions? Nighttime parking limits rile residents

Eugene Williams brands parking restrictions around Friendship Court and South First Street discriminatory.

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.



Yo we need street parkin cuz my hatchback aint got no reverse so when I pulls up to da crib, it would like benefit the hatchback to not gotta back out of a spot.

Oh yeah, and the shootings, well, they's "FRIENDLY FIRE" now that its Frienship Court not Garrett Squayah.

Beverly Hills CA has a similar night time parking ban. However in B.H. the ban is geared to keeping overflow from the comercial areas spilling into the residential sections by keeping non-residents from parking on residential streets. Residents in those areas have special permits that allow them to park on the streets during the proscribed hours (9pm to 5am).

Perhaps that should happen in Cville as well- permits provided to residents of those areas (Garret Square, etc,.) who legitimately need additional parking. But of course make them prove residency first so the permit can be tracked back to a person and unit number.

If I park there one night after 9:00 p.m., do you think a cop might show up?

If so, perhaps they can take the felony theft report I tried to file on Saturday. After waiting 2 hours, and seeing 5 police cars and one police van leisurely pass by my office, I cancelled my request to be seen and file a criminal activity report. WTF is the problem in this department?

When the crime statistics come out for 2007, I wonder how many crimes were never reported because of strange events like this? Why did no cop ever stop and take a report? Did the dispatch center drop the ball and not even dispatch the call?

look, these "powerless" people this guy cries about are anything but "powerless" They get subsidized housing, food stamps and health care. They also get to play the race card anytime anybody expects anything civically responsible from them. The reason for the parking ban is simple there were problems that are a natural part of lower income areas. The city has an obligation to protect the older residents who are there for reasons other than sitting in the back of the class instead of taking advantage of there free education. If this means they eliminate a gathering place so be it. What they should really do is buy some farm out in the county and let the people live out there and grow there own food etc. They could then sell that property for millions and build jails to put the pieces of crap that cause all the trouble.

"there free education"

Fred neck, glad to see that you took advantage of "you're" free education. Do you actually know anyone who lives in Friendship Court? Get to know them, and you might learn that they don't all "play the race card anytime anybody expects anything civically responsible from them." Maybe they'll even invite you over for one of those $1 meals they can buy with their food stamps that make them so powerful.