By GWEN OREL
This Sunday free and overnight parking in town ends, as the Montclair Parking Utility resumes enforcement of restrictions that had been suspended during the pandemic.
Some residents are saying it’s too soon for that.
Since the onset of the pandemic, officers had not been issuing tickets to vehicles parked in violation of one-, two-, and four-hour on-street and overnight parking regulations. Free 15-minute parking at meters had also been offered for quick pickups at local businesses. And parking fees for monthly permit holders had been waived in April and May, and reduced in June, July and August. Permit reductions ended in September, and now the other suspensions will end Nov. 1.
Montclairians have concerns, however. A lively discussion in the Facebook group Secret Montclair pointed out several issues with the reinstatement of fees. Many residents are still working from home and will do so until at least January, which means they are not driving their cars to work. This means they have to vie with out-of-towners for street spots outside their homes.
Two Central Avenue residents called into Tuesday’s council meeting asking that the council reconsider reinstituting enforcement of fees. Both said they are working from home and don’t have driveways and depend on street parking.
On Wednesday, Parking Utility Superintendent Emanuel Germano said daytime parking on the east side of Central Avenue will be permitted between Walnut and James streets. There are currently signs saying two-hour parking only, but they were put up erroneously and are being taken down, said Katya Wowk, township communications director.
Jayce Jones, who posted on Facebook, is a renter with no access to a driveway. He has a nighttime parking pass but has been on the daytime waiting list for a “C” permit for 2½ years.
Jones said that the municipal parking lots are now often empty, as people are working from home, and he accused the town of reinstituting parking regulations and ticketing as a “money grab.”
“No one is really going back into work until January,” he added. He suggested that Montclair follow Verona and Glen Ridge, which are forgiving fees until then.
Some residents are upset with losing the convenience of the free 15-minute parking at meters for quick pickups at businesses.
Soussen Susanne Fornasier, who moved from Germany to Montclair last year, said it encouraged her to visit more than one shop. Township Manager Tim Stafford said at the council meeting that the decision was “the result of a significant amount of calls that came from homeowners townwide, asking for the ending of those suspensions,” as well as an analysis of the lack of revenue due to the reductions in permits and meter collection.
Resident Mariah Martin Williamson wondered why the change was so sudden: residents had only a week’s notice. Even having to move a car every two to four hours is a hardship with people working from home, when they could be in the middle of a work call, or looking after a child. “Revenue is revenue, but there is always a way,” she said. Though parking might not be able to be free, she thought there should be a way to help residents out during this difficult time.
Township Manager Tim Stafford said at the council meeting that the decision was “the result of a significant amount of calls that came from homeowners townwide, asking for the ending of those suspensions,” as well as an analysis of the lack of revenue due to the reductions in permits and meter collection.
Wowk told Montclair Local the decision to reinstate full parking enforcement was a financial one. As of July, the parking utility’s revenues were down by 54 percent, from $3.36 million last year through July to $1.85 million this year. Of that, $1.8 million was collected in the first quarter, before the onset of the pandemic.
“By the end of this month the town will still be down 45 to 50 percent. The town cannot keep working like this. The amount of money we’re down is really hurting us,” Wowk said.
The decision to resume fees was an administrative one, not one made by the Township Council, said Councilman Peter Yacobellis. He would like to see a parking permit that would allow for parking on residential streets for residents only.
“Residents are right to be frustrated by the timing of the reinstatement of parking fines,” Yacobellis said. “The reprieve was given to help everyone cope with the pandemic, and as we can see, the pandemic is far from being over.”
He said the challenge, however, is weighing the loss in revenue while maintaining the enhanced local government services that the pandemic requires and not raising taxes during the accompanying economic recession. Federal relief for municipalities is also running out, he said.
“We clearly aren’t ‘rounding the corner,’ and local governments need additional stimulus from Washington,” Yacobellis said.
The Township Council is setting the budget for 2021 and needs relief and additional CARES Act money to avoid making cuts that could include layoffs, possibly even including first responders and teachers, which nobody wants to see happen, he said.
“Revenue has fallen off a cliff, and there’s no relief.”
For the waiting list problem, he said that the town must increase capacity. Several new parking decks opening next year will add a few hundred spots, he said.
“Our permit system overall needs an overhaul,” Yacobellis said. “We need nuance. Train station lots that have permit parking lots are great for commuters, but then they sit empty on weekends, when businesses could benefit from that parking.”
The council passed a resolution to suspend meter collection for two hours on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, through the holiday season, ending on Sunday, Dec. 26.