Longer parking time, fewer tickets for old tabs may be in Bremerton's future

Downtown Bremerton parkers may see longer parking limits and diminished vehicle registration enforcement if tentative proposals by a city parking committee go into effect.

The downtown parking committee, created to deal with parking issues in the city’s core and made up of two city council members, business owners and representatives from Naval Base Kitsap and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, met last week in an effort to improve parking. Amid contract negotiations with Diamond Parking, plans to build another downtown parking garage and City Council proposals to limit disabled parking, members hope to take a comprehensive approach in making the district friendly to shoppers and tourists.

By the end of the meeting, the committee decided to explore turning one- and two-hour parking spaces into three-hour slots on weekdays and four hours on weekends. It also wanted to let up on vehicle registration enforcement and make Washington Avenue a no-taxi-waiting zone.

Frank Gentile, operations manager of the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce, said downtown Bremerton has a reputation for being unfriendly to shoppers searching for parking. But the parking problems there are more perceived than real, he said.

“I don’t think Bremerton has parking problems. There are plenty of spaces,” he said, adding that the real problem is the two-hour shuffle that the parking limits create.

A survey distributed to downtown businesses in April yielded mixed opinions, complicating the picture for committee members who hoped to cull a clearer message from the results. Of the 125 surveys that were distributed, 40 were returned.

On an item that asked whether businesses would support parking meters, 16 indicated they were for it, while 20 opposed it. When asked about discounted parking in the Fourth Street and Washington Avenue parking garage, 21 businesses said they were aware of the offering, but 14 said they were interested in using it. Comments indicate opinions both for and against ideas such as paid monthly parking privileges in lots or charging for parking at all.

“The answers were just all over the map,” Gentile said. “I have no idea what the solution is anymore.”

Much of Tuesday’s meeting centered around parking enforcement. According to information provided by Diamond Parking and the Bremerton Police Department, 1,128 parking infractions have been issued in Bremerton between January and May, amounting to more than $44,000 in fines collected. While the largest share of violations comes from overtime parking - 595 tickets this year - the second most-frequent violation was expired vehicle registration with 227 tickets - an item that some members said should not be enforced at all.

“It should not be part of the deal,” said Carlos Jara, owner of Harborside Market on Washington Avenue, of Diamond Parking’s enforcement.

City Councilman Will Maupin said enforcement officers could probably issue warnings, instead, and track those warnings so those with expired license plate tabs could be ticketed later if necessary.

The committee also sought to eliminate the “two-hour shuffle” downtown when employees who park in two-hour spaces move their cars throughout the day. Though decisions are not yet final, the committee will seek to make on-street parking three hours on weekdays, with a one-hour “off-the-grid” rule, requiring vehicles parked downtown to leave the area for at least one hour before they can return. Maupin, who said tourists and families don’t have enough time to enjoy downtown festivities and summer weather during weekends with two-hour parking, proposed to make the weekend limit four hours.

The committee hopes the “off-the-grid” rule will encourage downtown employees to use the Fourth Street and Washington Avenue parking garage for $45 a month. While some comments on the parking survey expressed that paying a monthly $45 for parking was not reasonable, committee members and other downtown business owners said more employees need to use the garage to keep parking open and eliminate the periodic shuffle.

“You got to suck it up and pay for parking,” said Joe Hudson, owner of Evergreen Trophies on Fourth Street, adding that “shuffling” should be made illegal. “The parking on-street is for customers.”

The parking committee will also consider prohibiting waiting taxis from the Washington Avenue curb to keep that space open for parkers. Jara said idle taxis waiting for ferry passengers block customers from parking in front of his store.

Members hope to gather more information on these proposals and will meet again at 11:30 a.m. June 8 in the 6th floor Council Conference Room at the Norm Dicks Government Center.

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