Youth council offers idea for WLHS parking issue
There were no screaming matches or outraged heckles from a capacity crowd at West Linn City Hall Monday, March 5, as the City Council revisited the controversy surrounding parking in the residential area near West Linn High School.
But the tension in the room was palpable as West Linn's Youth Advisory Council (YAC) presented a recommendation that it saw as a compromise between students who demand more parking and residents who want to protect the restricted street parking zone that has existed in their neighborhood for more than 20 years.
"We have examined the issue from several angles and have determined a solution that we believe will best serve students at West Linn High School, residents of the Bolton neighborhood and the community as a whole," YAC member Hunter Shapersky said in the opening moments of the group's presentation.
The YAC's recommendation was simple: modify the residential parking zone — which exists on most streets near the high school — to allow for public parking on one side of each street in the zone, unless such an action is deemed inappropriate by the City. Specifically, they felt opening the east side of streets running north-south and the south side of east-west running streets would be best.
The YAC estimated this would open up between 166 and 175 spaces, pushing the total number of parking lot and street parking spaces at the high school from 423 to as many as 598. An additional 58 spaces could also open up on the Broadway and West A Street bridges, pending approval of a City proposal to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). The current enrollment at WLHS is 1,870.
The fight over parking rights near the high school dates back to last summer, when students Rory Bialostosky and Ben Carr appeared before the council to advocate for changes to the 1995 city ordinance that requires a residential permit to park on most streets near the high school. The council took action later in 2017, but only to reinforce the existing parking ordinance and close several loopholes that were discovered in the debates that followed the students' appeal for change.
That vote in September 2017 wasn't meant to squash the discussion, however. Shortly afterward, the City Council asked the YAC to look into the high school parking dilemma and come back with data about the extent of the problem and recommendations for how to solve it.
The YAC went on to conduct a survey of students in November that generated 668 responses, and after evaluating the survey results YAC met Feb. 7 to vote on its final recommendation to the council. Meanwhile, Bialostosky filed a "petition for declaratory judgement and injunctive relief" at the Clackamas County Circuit Court in early 2018 to challenge the legality of the September 2017 resolution, and that legal process has yet to be settled.
West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod and City Manager Eileen Stein also met with West Linn-Wilsonville School District Superintendent Kathy Ludwig on two separate occasions to discuss the issue, and a joint meeting between the City Council and WL-WV School Board is tentatively scheduled for April 16. Representatives from both the school district and the school board attended the March 5 City Council meeting, but did not speak publicly.
YAC members said the survey helped confirm long-standing beliefs about the parking problem. Notably, of the 373 respondents who answered a question about where they parked at school, 58 percent said they either parked on the street or at a private property (some residents rent spaces out to students for a monthly fee).
Several residents who testified after the YAC presentation saw the matter differently. Bolton Neighborhood Association representative Alan Smith said increased student parking could exacerbate an already problematic speeding situation in the neighborhood, while also impeding first responders if more cars were on the street during the day. He also felt that it could cause safety problems for students.
"Lighting (on the street) is sparse and not as bright as parking lots. Students would be difficult to see, especially on dark, rainy mornings," Smith said. "The City would be accepting a higher burden of liability for student safety."
Resident Don Carver, who lives on West A Street, felt that the City's best approach would be to discourage driving and support alternative modes of transportation.
"Adding parking spaces in the existing neighborhood parking zone is not a good answer," Carver said. "I believe that supporting solutions that discourage commuter traffic by encouraging less driving and less demand on existing parking spaces is the right way to go."
Bialostosky also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, and said he was shocked when he recently discovered that some residents near the high school had expanded their properties onto City right-of-way. He illustrated the problem with several slides showing satellite images with city property lines, and said that the narrow side streets — cited by residents as part of the argument against student parking — were in some cases caused by those same residents. And even worse, he said, some of the residents who encroached on public right-of-way were renting that space out to students for parking.
"Some residents have taken property that is not theirs, that is public, and rented it out," Bialostosky said.
He called the behavior "fraudulent" and said the City should take back its rights-of-way.
In the end, the council made clear that it would not vote on anything that night, but it appreciated the input.
"Tonight was principally to hear from the Youth Council and their evaluation," Axelrod said.
He added that the extent of the need for parking remained unclear, and City Councilor Rich Sakelik echoed that concern.
"It's kind of hard to address a problem when you don't know how big the problem is," Axelrod said. "I'm still just struggling with fundamental question of how many parking spots do we need?"
YAC member Evan McKinley said it was difficult to project future needs as enrollment continued to grow, but that the current need is about 215 spaces.
City Councilor Teri Cummings said that while it was clear that there was a parking problem at the school, residential zones are far from unprecedented and all of the involved parties should get creative about solutions that go beyond opening up more space.
"Parents can be more resourceful, students can be more resourceful," Cummings said. "Are we really going to come to a time where not only do we think our kids need to have their own phones, but our kids also need to have their own cars?
"How do we find a fair and happy medium here?"
Cummings and City Council President Brenda Perry also addressed Bialostosky's allegations.
"The street was built the way it was built — people don't build streets, and at the time the streets were built to that width," Cummings said. "Typically there will be a larger amount of right-of-way that the City reserves the right to develop in the future, and that isn't likely unless there's redevelopment or we get a huge pot of money to pave all of the city."
Perry said while that may be true, the City should still look into how residents are using public right-of-way.
"I understand we only build the road to cover a certain amount (of space) but that does not mean the rest of the land is up for grabs," Perry said. "If we're hearing concerns that streets are too narrow and that's causing safety issues regardless of parking ... we need to look into that."