NEWS- Hitting home: Activist's street target of parking ban



When the city put up signs around Friendship Court and public housing complexes on South First Street prohibiting overnight parking, Eugene Williams objected. Now, Williams, a 79-year-old retired landlord and civil rights activist, finds his own street on the do-not-park list, and he's having trouble getting specifics about the new rules.


 Citing safety concerns and residents' complaints, the City has banned parking between 9pm and 5am in two other neighborhoods, and Williams has alleged racism. In a recent Hook article ["Racial restrictions? Nighttime parking limits rile residents," May 24], Williams cited the fact that those neighborhoods, both largely African American, are the only city locations subject to such restriction, and he wondered, outraged, which street might be next to have its parking policy changed. Williams got his answer in late June. 

That's when Williams noticed a sign hanging on a utility pole across the street from his house in the 600 block of Ridge Street. The sign– one of three on Ridge, a historically African American neighborhood– says the proposed change is "due to neighborhood safety concerns" and offers a phone number and asks for residents' input between June 19 and July 3.

Since Williams' feelings about the restrictions should come as no surprise to anyone in the traffic office, did city officials know they were targeting Williams' block? Neither police chief Tim Longo nor traffic engineer Jeanie Alexander returned the Hook's calls for this article, but city spokesperson Ric Barrick says Alexander was "very surprised" to learn Williams lives there.

Barrick says the parking restrictions are something the City has used in an attempt to combat drug activity. The recent sign postings, says Barrick, are to allow public input before a final decision about parking changes are made. Barrick says he is "not sure how much feedback they've gotten from residents."

Williams lives in the 600 block of Ridge Street in a stately brick house he and his wife, Lorraine, purchased in 1956 and in which they raised their two daughters. Fifty years after the Williamses moved in, the property remains immaculate– the trim painted, the grass cut, flowers hanging on the wide front porch. They appear to be a quiet couple.

Unfortunately, not all the residents of Ridge are quiet or considerate. City spokesperson Barrick says there were 34 calls to police in a multi week period this past spring for complaints related to 608 Ridge Street, and there have also been issues with 610.

Both are multi-family rental properties with out-of-town owners, says Williams, who acknowledges the problems. He says, however, that banning overnight parking isn't the solution to the problems of drugs and other crime– it simply deprives residents of the right to park in front of their houses.

The restricted parking signs, says Williams, are a "beacon" of a troubled neighborhood, and he fears that "people will not want to pay fair property value with those types of signs" out front. He's not the only Ridge Street resident who feels that way. Giovanna Galfione, wife of former Charlottesville Mayor Maurice Cox, who has lived in the 700 block Ridge Street for 14 years, says she agrees with Williams.

The parking restriction signs, she says, will "stigmatize the neighborhood." The dead-end portion of Ridge Street provides excess parking on a street where offstreet parking is scarce, Galfione says, so preventing overnight parking in the circle "doesn't make any sense."

City code says that changes to parking on any street should be initiated by resident petition, and Williams has asked the city to provide him with copies of letters from Ridge Street residents requesting the parking changes. So far, he says, he has been given no names.

"They can't seem to prove that any residents made the petition," he says. "I"m a stickler that you need to be able to prove something other than
This Don Berard cartoon originally ran with our May 24 story.