Roseburg Park Smart’s Ron Sanders seems more like an old-fashioned beat cop than a typical parking enforcement officer.
Sanders makes a point of dropping in to downtown businesses to say, “Hi,” and see how things are going. He also contacts police if he sees troublemakers.
He writes tickets for expired meters, but prefers issuing warnings for other parking offenses.
When he sees cars taking up two spaces, he writes notes to remind the drivers they are inconveniencing other drivers.
Sanders and Kenny Sherman, who was a longtime Roseburg radio disc jockey, are the only enforcement officers for Park Smart, which is operated by the Downtown Roseburg Association and replaced Seattle-based Diamond Parking in November.
Merchants had no shortage of complaints with Diamond Parking.
Gripes that Diamond Parking was too strict, writing tickets for frivolous reasons and driving away customers, led to merchants persuading the city to let the Downtown Roseburg Association enforce parking laws. Diamond Parking, which contracted with the city for five years, said it was merely applying the rules and argued that turning the job over to merchants would lead to uneven enforcement.
New management has resulted in fewer complaints but also fewer tickets. Park Smart has brought in less money in fines than its predecessor. Since the city requires the parking program to pay for itself, fewer tickets could lead to higher parking meter rates.
Sanders said his approach to parking enforcement reflects his 14 years in law enforcement. Sanders worked for the small towns of Hines and Winston, the VA Roseburg Healthcare System and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s easy for me to get along with people, especially when people are upset about parking tickets or upset about things. I’ve dealt with that in my law enforcement career,” Sanders said. “I’ve done it so long, it’s second nature to me. It doesn’t ever leave you.”
Before joining Park Smart, Sherman worked at Roseburg radio stations.
Sherman said Park Smart takes a more lenient approach than did Diamond.
“We don’t really pull out the chalk and measure how far you are from the sidewalk,” Sherman said. “Our goal is to not run customers off. We want people to shop downtown.”
Jean Jarvis, co-owner of Jarvis Custom Frame Shop, summed up the experience of many Southeast Jackson Street merchants with Park Smart so far.
“We haven’t had any complaints,” she said.
The difference between Diamond and Park Smart is like “night and day,” said real estate broker Tina Ronk of Integrity Team Real Estate Services.
“They (Sanders and Sherman) walk up and down the street, pop in and check on everybody. They’ve been awesome,” Ronk said.
A beautician at Jackson Street Hair Studio, Amber Hedgecock, said she used to hear lots of complaints from her customers about tickets they said were unfair.
“There are not as many complaints now, and it seems like there’s more people downtown lately,” she said.
Sewing Bee owner Mike Phillips said he likes the change.
“These guys are so nice. They smile and wave. There’s no snarl. We’ve noticed it, and our customers notice it,” Phillips said.
Sherman said he tries to spread goodwill by answering questions and giving directions.
“I’ll walk through town and talk to people. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know where the post office is,” he said.
Sherman and Sanders also try to make downtown safer.
“I spend some time in the parking garage just to make sure tourists and everybody feels secure,” Sherman said.
Hedgecock said Sanders came to her assistance when an apparently mentally ill person acting up in the street frightened her so much she locked herself in the hair salon until he arrived.
Roseburg Community Development Director Brian Davis said the city has received “far fewer” complaints about Park Smart than Diamond, but it is bringing in less money. Park Smart collected $6,941 from tickets in the first quarter of 2013, compared with $14,475 by Diamond over the same period in 2012.
Davis said part of the difference is because Park Smart only began last month collecting on delinquent accounts whereas Diamond’s collection agency was up and running. Collections should increase in coming months since fines continue to accrue on delinquent tickets, he said.
Between Jan. 1 and the end of April, Park Smart issued 1,110 tickets, compared with 1,407 written by Diamond during the same period in 2012.
Downtown Roseburg Association Director Roxana Grant said Park Smart saves money by running a smaller and cheaper operation, with just two enforcement officers to Diamond’s five.
Davis said the city will help Park Smart find ways to break even, possibly by increasing rates for parking meters.
Davis said at 20 cents an hour Roseburg’s meter rates are low compared to other small Oregon cities. For example, Oregon City charges $1 an hour and Hood River 75 cents an hour, he said.
Sanders and Sherman said parking enforcement gives them plenty of exercise.
Sanders said he strapped on a pedometer and discovered that even though he drives a parking vehicle around town he walks 10 miles a day.
“It’s a beautiful downtown area. There’s a lot of shops I didn’t even know existed until I started walking around downtown and meeting people,” Sanders said.
Sanders said ticket recipients’ reactions vary.
“I’ve seen people completely irate. I’ve seen people who thank us for what we do. You get all kinds of different responses,” Sanders said.
He said he hopes the new, friendlier style of parking enforcement will encourage shoppers to return to downtown.
“We’re battling the ghosts of the past,” he said. “It’s slowly getting better and people appreciate it. It’s nice to get those compliments.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
These guys are so nice. They smile and wave. There’s no snarl. We’ve noticed it, and our customers notice it.
Owner of Sewing Bee in downtown Roseburg