By Bryan Hellios
Shaking his head, David Beranek plucked a ticket from beneath his truck’s windshield wipers. Seeing other people looking at tickets they also received, Beranek peered into the meter’s glass dome to see if the parking hours had been changed.
“The sign on the meter says weekends are not enforced,” Baranek said. “How can they issue tickets if they did not change the signs?”
As co-owner of Scooters, Beranek said he has religiously fed the parking meters Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. for years, but was not aware Eau Claire is now enforcing downtown parking seven days a week.
Community Service Officers were heavily patrolling on Sunday, and had issued 17 parking tickets by 11 a.m. to vehicles parked in Eau Claire’s Railroad Street Lot.
“This is insanity,” Beranek said. “Is the city of Eau Claire this hard up for money?”
Leah Ness, Transportation Engineer for the city of Eau Claire, said parking enforcement changed in downtown from five to seven days a week with enforcement beginning at 6 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. Ness said the changes were approved by the City Council after its review of a Comprehensive Downtown Parking Study.
According to the study, there are 670 “on-street” parking spots and 1,301 “off-street” parking stalls. The study indicates on-street parking is more utilized than off-street parking, and they believe increased parking enforcement will encourage people to use more of the paid off-street parking lots. The thought is this will increase revenue and free up downtown parking.
Ness said downtown businesses were on board with stricter parking regulations.
“The goal of the changing of the parking enforcement is to provide the turnover for the business downtown that they have been requesting,” Ness said.
However, many businesses in downtown expressed fear that the increased enforcement will hurt their business as well as affect their employees.
Employees at Acoustic Café, Art Box & company, Rice Palace, A Brand New Tattoo and a new restaurant called Ninja are worried about where they are going to park.
Connie Olson, owner of the Downtown Budget Cinema, said the new change is causing her employees to leave work to plug the meters with quarters or move their car every two hours.
She said she may have to rethink its plans to include more matinee movies because of parking. Since some of the movies at the cinema are over two hours long, customers are forced to pay to park or risk getting a ticket, Olson said.
“The city wanted the downtown to be revitalized and have people come in, and then you throw something in that makes it not as welcoming,” Olson said.