Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Parking Meter Battle Royale

The AC Press has the latest on the lawsuit between the city and the eastsiders opposed to parking meters: HERE ... or you can read the story right here:

Cape May group files counterclaim against city over parking meters

Staff Writer
CAPE MAY — The battle over installing new parking meters is escalating as a group of property owners on the east side of town has filed a counterclaim against the city in New Jersey Superior Court.
Friends and Neighbors of East Cape May, or FAN ECM, has been fighting the city’s plan to install more than 400 new parking meters, many along Beach Avenue and side streets on the east side of town. The group also opposes the city’s plan to reconfigure some of the parking from parallel to angled parking.
In April, FAN ECM filed a petition to bring the parking plan to a public vote. The city argued that parking and traffic regulations may not be subject to a public referendum and then sought a ruling on the issue from Superior Court.
On Monday, the group announced it has filed counterclaims with the court contending that parking meter ordinances are not exempt from a voter referendum. The group also asked the court to strike down two city parking meter ordinances on statutory and constitutional grounds.
“Although we thought the ordinances were arguably illegal when passed, nevertheless, we first took the high road of voter democracy and obtained the support of 22 percent of the voters in the last election for a referendum. However, instead of accepting a fair vote, the city responded with a lawsuit that wastes public funds, snubs voters and confuses the issues,” said Jim Testa, a spokesman for the neighborhood group.
The city said it went to court partly over a concern that any parking changes done through a public election process may need another such process to be changed. The city has historically made parking meter changes via ordinances adopted by City Council, a relatively quick process that takes a matter of weeks.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said council has to make frequent changes in parking and traffic patterns due to growth in the community and sometimes in reaction to recommendations from the Planning Board or a new city master plan. Mahaney added that City Council is unanimous in seeking the ruling and said elected officials have a responsibility to make decisions that impact public health, safety and welfare.
“If the voters are permitted to vote on these ordinances, the city’s entire traffic and parking chapter of the City Code would be vulnerable to the will of a small percentage of our voters,” Mahaney said.
Testa argued that the city’s parking changes are not about public safety, such as controlling traffic, but are really about raising more revenue through meter income. Testa argued angled parking may reduce safety.
City officials have promoted the potential revenue, up to $225,000 more per year, but say there are other benefits. City Manager Bruce MacLeod said the angled parking plan will create more parking spaces and this will ease traffic congestion and improve traffic flow.
Testa said the court action initiated by the city gives the group another forum to challenge the ordinances if a voter referendum is not held.
“When you make claims in court like the city has, you have to expect counterclaims,” Testa said.
The group argues the ordinances are arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and improper. It also argues that the ordinances are invalid constitutionally under due process and equal protection clauses.
The city argues that Beach Avenue, where most of the new parking meters and angled parking would go, is a Cape May County road and is outside of any municipal election process. The city also argues state statutes, specifically Title 39, exempt the issue from a public referendum.
MacLeod said a “prompt decision” is needed from the court so the new parking plan can be implemented for the summer season.
Contact Richard Degener:

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