Pittsburgh City Council agrees to extend free metered parking at night

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 2:12 p.m.

Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday again postponed nighttime parking meter enforcement that was intended to generate cash for a $1.2 million annual budget hole.

After a long-winded and cantankerous debate that included accusations of political posturing, council agreed to a compromise that maintains the 6 p.m. cutoff until June 30 when “all these elections are over.”

The city was set to extend enforcement until 10 p.m. in seven neighborhoods beginning in January.

Councilman Corey O'Connor said, however, politics were not the main motivation for his compromise bill. He said he asked for the delay so council could devise another plan for generating revenue.

“I think the discussion got more political than it should have,” he said.

Council President Darlene Harris and Councilman Ricky Burgess accused Councilman Bill Peduto, a 2013 Democratic candidate for mayor, of playing politics when he introduced legislation this month that would have perpetually maintained 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. meter enforcement.

Peduto argued that nighttime enforcement hurts small-business owners, many of whom appeared before council last week to argue for the status quo.

“(Peduto says), ‘I want to run for mayor, and I want to be financially responsible,'” Harris said, taking lines from Peduto's speech when he officially announced his mayoral campaign on Thursday. “Well, Mr. Peduto, here's the time to be financially responsible. We will hold this for six months until after all these elections are over.”

Peduto declined to respond to Harris, but O'Connor said needs of both the city and business owners should be weighed.

“You want to make a good decision that's not going to hurt the city, but also not hurt our business owners.”

The issue dates to 2010 when council avoided state takeover of employee pension plans by committing $735 million in parking taxes over 30 years to them.

Council also increased parking meter rates and extended parking enforcement in Downtown, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Oakland, the North Shore, the South Side and the Strip District to plug a budget hole created by the loss of taxes.

Shortly thereafter, reacting to public outcry, council returned enforcement to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through this year.

Jeff Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College, said candidates often avoid hard decisions for the wrong reasons.

“You'd like to see politicians take responsibility for the policies that they want to put into place,” he said. “Unfortunately, if they feel it's going to upset voters, they'll either try to hide those policies, or they try to push them down the road to a point where voters have already had their say in the election or a future election process.”

O'Connor said the delay would permit council to explore alternatives such as slightly raising rates instead of expanding enforcement times.

“I think most council members would agree that we don't want to hurt the small businesses,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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