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Much-needed changes coming to downtown parking, but they won't happen quickly or cheaply

Roseburg officials hired a Portland consulting firm to analyze the downtown parking situation, and they discovered what many people who have to park there already knew — it’s a bit of a mess.

From confusing signage to a neglected parking garage to shoddy record-keeping, things are so bad that a complete overhaul is needed, the study by Rick Williams Consulting found. And the necessary changes won’t come quickly or cheaply — some improvements are expected to take more than four years to implement and the total price tag will likely exceed $400,000, according to the report.

Williams presented the report, which also included a review of parking in the Laurelwood neighborhood, to the Roseburg City Council on Monday. The council agreed to accept the study and move forward with its recommendations.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but we have to start someplace,” Roseburg City Councilor Brian Prawitz. “Basically this is a reboot of the entire system.”

The first order of business will be to develop and implement changes in the city codes related to parking, and then finding a third party vendor to oversee the overall parking program. The city hasn’t had anyone running the parking program since the contract with the previous vendor, Park Smart, was discontinued last April.

That means that essentially there has been no parking enforcement to speak of in the last year, city officials said.

In total, the downtown parking inventory consists of 1,365 publicly owned spots, including 822 on-street spots and 543 off-street spots located in six places — five open lots and the parking garage.

“Most people said that parking can be difficult to find, particularly free parking, which is not unusual in a city that has paid and free parking options,” Williams said.

The 822 on-street parking spots downtown had 13 different use types. Over 50% of parking there is unregulated and many areas have multiple time stays on single blocks. “This creates confusion, makes enforcement very difficult and inefficient, and enables abuse,” the report states.

Other problems highlighted in the report include:

  • A lack of consistency and oversight with parking tickets. From 2016 through 2019, nearly 12,000 tickets were issued, yet 3,114 of those, or 26%, were inexplicably voided. Those voided tickets meant $221,090 in lost revenue during that four-year period.
  • Poor financial record-keeping. The records were incomplete and at times conflicting, and did not provide clear and consistent information regarding revenue and expenses in the parking and enforcement program.
  • Confusion reigns. There is unlimited parking, parking prohibited for employees, parking for the disabled, 10-minute spots, 15-minute spots, 30-minute spots, 1-hour spots, 2-hour spots, and special use spots. In the metered parking there are 2-hour meters, 3-hour meters, 5-hour meters and 10-hour meters.
  • A shabby parking garage. In a survey of 300 people who park downtown, nearly two-thirds said the garage felt “dark and unsafe,” and they were reluctant to use it.

Suggested upgrades to the parking garage include more and better lighting, improved signage, new paint throughout and a deep cleaning of stairwells, lobbies, and entry/exit plazas.

Parking meters were also an issue for people, the survey showed.

“Unable to tell if meters are real or nostalgic,” one person said.

“Meters in poor shape, I had no idea they were operational,” another said.

“I thought the meters had been abandoned and were inoperable. No marking on the meters,” a third person said.

The plan calls for a phased approach to fixing the downtown parking ills.

In the first year of the program, changes would include adopting new parking codes, creating a system to track financial records and securing a contract with a parking vendor.

Year two would consist of installing new signs, creating a parking information web site and implementing license-plate based permitting in residential areas. The cost for these changes is estimated at about $100,000.

Years two through four would entail assessing compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and renaming the parking lots.

Work after year four would include installing about 260 smart-meters and kiosks throughout the downtown core, which would cost about $300,000, according to the study.

This final phase of the plan also calls for improvements to the parking garage. The cost of those improvements is not known, and would require a study to determine, Williams said.

That study would cost about $20,000, he said.

Phoenix Charter School farm produces thousands of pounds in fruits and veggies

Tawnie Goetz-Kennedy hopes the garden at Phoenix Charter School in Roseburg yields about 5,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables each year.

Last year, the crop only yielded about 2,500 pounds because after schools closed in mid-March, there were just two people left to work in the garden.

Goetz-Kennedy, who is a teacher and the garden coordinator for the school, welcomed students back into the greenhouse and garden a little more than a month ago — just in time to start planting.

The first order of business for students was building a smoothie patch, with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. The blueberries have been planted and the other two will soon follow.

“They’ve been out here digging holes, learning about mixing the soil to get the clay to the proper pH level for the blueberries,” Goetz-Kennedy said, adding that the fruits “can easily freeze and be put through the kitchen. The kids can make smoothies and other fun projects for their lunch with them. This was a big, big, exciting project because it was just a bare field before.”

Goetz-Kennedy said every student in the school comes to the garden sooner or later. In the garden, they can earn science, physical education or elective credits.

Rachel Johnson works at the school through the AmeriCorps program as the Healthy Futures leader and spends a lot of her time in the garden with the students.

Johnson was also one of three staff members that helped place new plastic on the school’s greenhouse this year.

The greenhouse is filled with vegetable starts that will make their way into the garden beds outside after spring break.

During late spring, about 65% of the vegetables available at the school’s salad bar will come directly from the garden. Although peas and carrots hardly make it to the kitchen.

“They’re easy to pick and they’re ready early,” Goetz-Kennedy said. “A lot of times a lot of our produce doesn’t start producing until July-August and by then, a lot of the kids have gone home.”

To help keep rodents out of the garden, the school just adopted a cat named Freya.

Freya is the latest animal students care for at the school.

There are also two bunnies near the school garden, Thomas and Fufu, that were adopted from Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center, and a Russian tortoise named Shelby who takes up residence in the greenhouse.

“This is kind of a good place to come hang out when you’re just having a rough, rough day,” Goetz-Kennedy said about the bunny area, which has a bench for students to sit on while they pet the animals.

The bunnies’ and tortoise’s diets consist almost entirely out of vegetables grown in the garden.

Roseburg homeless commission discusses RVs at Gaddis Park

Spring is on the horizon, which likely means the start of outdoor activities, including youth sports. And that, city officials said, means it is time to start thinking about what to do with the large number of homeless people living in campers and tents in and around public areas, including parks.

The issue is particularly acute at Gaddis Park in Roseburg, which has a large contingent of homeless people living in tents and RVs around the park, City Manager Nikki Messenger said Monday at the monthly meeting of the city’s homeless commission.

“The Little League season is getting ready to start and there are nine RVs that are parking there that we need to get moved, quite frankly,” Messenger said. “Parking is at a premium during Little League season.”

There are also tents near the park, including one just beyond the outfield fence, she said.

“Gaddis is really built for a specific purpose, so it’s not a great spot for people to be camping,” Messenger said. “We’re trying to navigate how we deal with this potential conflict so we don’t have parents taking matters into their own hands.”

The city is in a predicament because of COVID-19 and the directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends leaving homeless camps alone rather than having the individuals living in them disperse throughout the area. The Roseburg homeless commission has advocated for helping homeless people shelter in place, since there is no warming center in the area.

Additionally, recent federal court rulings limit how aggressive local governments can be in breaking up and ticketing homeless people living in encampments, especially if there is no alternative place for them to go.

The homeless commission asked Messenger and other city officials to review the situation and come back with recommendations on possible changes to city codes to address the matter. The commission also asked city officials to examine possible changes to codes to deal with public camping by homeless individuals once the restrictions surrounding COVID-19 are lifted.

The commission decided not to pursue a recommendation by homeless commission member KC Bolton to allow regulated warming fires at homeless encampments when the weather gets cold. Bolton suggested a requirement that such fires be lit in designed fire pits or metal barrels.

“I’m the kind of guy who looks for practical solutions as we work towards the bigger ticket items,” he said. “It gets pretty cold at night. To me, when it gets down between 45 and 30 degrees, that’s pretty darn cold.”

Board member Mike Fieldman agreed that the city should look at ways to regulate and allow such warming fires, rather than simply outlawing them.

“People are still going to need to stay warm, they’re still going to need to cook food,” Fieldman said. “That’s not going away, whether they’re doing it legally or illegally.”

But Messenger, Mayor Larry Rich, Fire Marshal Monte Bryan, and the rest of the commission members agreed it would be too dangerous to allow such warming fires and decided to drop that matter.

Fieldman also updated the commission on the status of Oregon legislation that would bring the city $1.5 million toward a low barrier shelter with services, known as a navigation center. Fieldman said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who is the primary sponsor of the legislation, has put it on a fast track for approval.

“It looks like we will be getting the $1.5 million for the navigation center sooner rather than later,” Fieldman said.

In addition to Roseburg, McMinnville, Bend, Medford, Salem and Eugene would also get funding for navigation centers.