CENTRAL FALLS — On Monday, Jan. 9, city residents will have a chance to speak about the controversial new overnight parking ban that state-appointed officials want to start enforcing next week. The appointed City Council will be holding a public hearing on the parking ban as part of its regular meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. at Central Falls City Hall.
The parking ban ordinance, approved last month by Gayle Corrigan, chief of staff for state-appointed receiver Robert G. Flanders, prohibits car owners from leaving their vehicles on the city's streets between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. The penalty would be a $40 ticket for the first offense, and subsequent tickets and towing for repeat offenders.
The city-wide parking ban is scheduled to be enforced by police starting on Monday and staying in effect until April 1. Flanders and Corrigan have said that the parking ban will allow for better snow plowing and street sweeping and will also work to improve public safety. They have both publicly denied that it is meant as a revenue generator for the cash-strapped city as they grapple to find ways of dealing with the bankruptcy crisis.
The acting police chief, Major James Mendonca, and acting fire chief, John Garvey, have voiced strong support for the plan, with Mendonca saying publicly that it will enable police to better spot suspicious vehicles and Garvey maintaining it will allow greater access for fire and rescue vehicles to travel down narrow city streets.
Yet, since residents have been made aware of the parking ban through word of mouth, fliers and the news media, there has been a storm of protest. Several residents have called and written letters to The Times to complain about the ban, and public officials including state Sen. Elizabeth Crowley and Councilman James Diossa have said they have been deluged by phone calls from angry vehicle owners.
Diossa, who is on the three-member appointed City Council, along with Edna Poulin and Robert Ferri, said he has received “a lot of phone calls, e-mails. People are not too happy.” He said one of the major complaints is from landlords who run the risk of losing tenants over the parking ban.
Diossa said that he did a ride-along earlier this week with the Central Falls Police and saw “driveways packed with cars.” He noted that if the first tenant of a multi-family house ends up having an emergency or a reason to go out, they would have to wake up all of the other tenants to have them move their cars. Another issue has been raised from those who work a second or third shift, who would have to get up early and move their vehicle by 6 a.m.
State Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, a lifelong resident of the city, said she began getting phone calls on Christmas Eve “and they're still continuing.” Besides concerned landlords, she has also heard from people who are worried about the safety of having to walk to and from a parking lot to their car during the late night or early morning hours. This trek would be particularly burdensome for the elderly, the handicapped, or a mother with young children, she said.
What's more, Crowley said she has a problem with the process by which the ordinance was passed, since it did not come from an elected body such as the City Council. She said that from her knowledge of state bankruptcy laws, a receiver is supposed to only be concerned with financial matters and doesn't have the right to interfere with an ordinance governing day-to-day city operations. “Everything I was taught about representative government, since I was a girl of 14 and came through the doors of City Hall for the first time, flies in the face of this,” fumed Crowley.
Both Crowley and Diossa said they encourage residents to show up at the meeting on Monday and voice their concerns. Crowley noted that the appointed City Council can give advice to the receiver, and said she hopes the ordinance is held in abeyance until many of the issues are addressed.
Gayle Corrigan told The Times on Wednesday that the ban was initiated by the acting police and fire chiefs as a way of improving public safety. She said the police force, in particular, has been downsized by about 25 percent, and that by having less cars parked on the streets helps deter crime.
Corrigan said the parking ban ordinance was properly advertised and two public hearings were held last month, one for first passage and another for final passage. No one showed up to voice opposition, and the receiver approved it. When asked if residents knew about it, she said efforts were made to get the word out. “We tried to send out notices,” she said. “But, frankly, it's always been a problem with community involvement.”
Corrigan, who joined Flanders, Mendonca, and others on an early morning police ride-along on Tuesday, said the compliance had improved greatly in just a few days, with the number of on-street cars dropping from 600 on Monday to 450 on Tuesday and to around 150 or less by Wednesday. “The compliance has been good,” she said.
Corrigan said that during the ride-along, she could see for herself how having the streets cleared of cars is helpful to police. “They have to do a lot more with less, and crime needs to be controlled. They just don't have the manpower,” she said. She added that she also saw a lot of trash on the streets, so street sweepers will be sent out to clean this up.
Corrigan said there are 25 city lots that can be used for parking, so she doesn't think residents will have to walk very far to find a place to park. She also said that she thinks the point about people feeling unsafe walking late at night is unwarranted, because the city's crimes mostly concern property while “crimes against people have plummeted.” Still, she conceded that “statistical arguments don't help the emotional ones.”
Corrigan said she is aware that many residents have raised complaints, and said that she and Flanders are still open to listening to suggestions and amending the ordinance. She said that one suggestion has been to have alternating, one-sided street parking according to house numbers (odd numbers one day, even numbers the next). “This allows street sweeping, but it's not as good as a total ban,” she said.
Corrigan added that she plans to be present at Monday's council meeting to listen to the input. The appointed City Council, she noted, is an advisory to the receiver and said “we're open to different solutions.” She added, “It took this ordinance to get people talking.”