by Frances Edstrom
I was not surprised to read that the City Council turned down the Parking Committee’s suggestion to sell parking permits to residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Winona State University. The idea would have allowed permit holders to park in the vicinity of their homes, and those without permits would be forced to buy more expensive permits in WSU parking lots, or park farther out from the campus.
No one likes to think it costs money to park in front of your own house. But the truth is that just because we buy a house, we have not bought the right to a parking spot on the street in front of the house, or even on the same block. The parking permit was as good a solution to the problem as any, just not a very popular one. (The only other good solution was proposed by a WSU student in a letter to the editor. He suggested that students park in one of the empty lots on the west end of Winona, such as the vast lot surrounding the J.C. Penny store, and ride a shuttle bus to the campus.)
But that’s not a conundrum I want to get into today.
I have written often in the past about the predilection of this city administration to appoint a committee any time it is faced with a difficult decision. Worse, it appoints citizen committees to “study” things that the city has no intention of doing anything about. The fact that there is a citizen group studying whatever it is serves as a good excuse for inaction — think Levee Park, for instance.
So the parking committee spent hundreds of hours gathering in good faith to try to solve what is a very pesky problem in any university community: how do we deal with the clogged streets around the university? It’s a particularly pesky problem in Winona, where the university is forced, if it wants to grow and expand, to build on parking lots or future parking lots or to buy up adjacent neighborhoods, a cost-prohibitive plan. But when WSU was founded in 1858, not even my house, the first in my neighborhood, was in existence, and I can see WSU from where I sit. The growth possibilities must have seemed endless at the time.
The parking committee finally presented its decision to the City Council, though only to be shot down. The committee’s plan was not a surprise to the mayor or council members, unless of course they never read the paper, listen to the radio or watch local television news (could be?). It was evident long ago to anyone paying attention — which should include the mayor and City Council — that the parking permit option was a strong one.
So my question is this: Why didn’t the mayor or council step in and tell the committee to take the permit idea off the table because it wouldn’t fly? Wouldn’t that be the nice, decent thing to do? And couldn’t a council straw vote early on — say a year ago — have saved these citizen volunteers who make up the committee a lot of their precious personal time? Shouldn’t the paid city employee who is assigned to the committee be clued as to what the council and mayor are going to swallow and let the committee know?
A year of volunteer work has been flushed with a few votes and a little bit of discussion. Again. Why can’t the city get smarter or nicer about the way it deals with citizen committees. Unless it just doesn’t want to. After all, the presence of a committee can be used to assuage any fears the voters might have that in reality nothing is being done that they want, but a lot is being done that they don’t want — with the voters’ tax money.