A special Committee of the Whole meeting of the Ludington City Council held in the Community Room of city hall's basement at 6 PM on Wednesday, May 31st ran rather long at two hours and fifteen minutes.  Convened to discuss proposed parking fees at Stearns Beach and gauge the council's and public's reaction, the agenda packet showed that the staff's proposal and council discussion would occur before the public was allowed to weigh in.

Obviously, the staff made the decision to try to give the council and the public all of the information they had so far on beach parking in the best light so that they might change the minds of those attending who were viscerally against the policy.  Blinded at least in part by the potential gain for city departments by netting around $200,000 extra in revenue each year, the staff, led by City Manager Mitch Foster, dutifully presented their material showing maximally the reasons for having parking fees while minimizing or dismissing the reasons for not doing so.  

The presentation lasted about an hour, Foster throwing out numbers and potential policy with a comprehensive power point covering the minutia and handling questions from councilors while sometimes deferring to Police Chief Jones and DPW Superintendent Joe Stickney for their input. The seventy people in attendance were admirably polite and attentive during that time.  

Much of this is in the packet other than the expected revenue generated.  They expect $220,000 to be taken in by the kiosks each year, minus about $50,000 for the purchase and maintenance of the kiosks the first year.  They then expect less than $10,000 in maintenance each year for the life of the kiosks.  The money would be mostly collected from "free-rider" tourists who use the beach and generally do not pay anything to maintain it.  Foster would also indicate that tourists would not be dissuaded from stopping at Stearns Beach by a $5 or $10 parking fee.

What followed was a half hour where the council would discuss this program amongst themselves and ask some questions from staff.  Councilor John Terzano, recognizing tourism as one of Ludington's most persistent and major industry, objected to the idea through many ways and though he never stated which side he was on (until later), he said that his mind was already made up on the issue.  Other councilors were less animated in their commentary and less committed to their ultimate vote, but one could tell that about half (Kathy Winczewski, Les Johnson, Cheri Stibitz) were showing bias towards the new revenue generator, and about half were showing bias against (Terzano, Bulger, and Cain).  

Two other officials commented during this time.  City Attorney Ross Hammersley gave his opinion after looking at the various deeds to the property, and in agreement with Roger Anderson and Richard Wilson (former city attorneys) that the City would be within its powers to charge parking fees and remain within the agreements (others would say otherwise).  Mayor Mark Barnett saying that it was important that the city looks at all options to increase revenues.  

It then became the public's turn to speak.  Jeff White, who is on the Planning Commission, but who does a bit of property development in the city, led off with what could have been the best comment of the night, suggesting strongly that the city has not thought this over well in offering a pro-business, pro-beach-user argument.  Jim Mueller followed up by saying it was a bad idea to make the beach patrol into meter maids just to irritate tourists so that they won't come back, wondering whether citizens would have lower taxes, and asserting that the beach was for all to enjoy.

At this point, the mayor needed to caution the audience to hold off applause, since both men had received quite a bit.  Chuck Sobanski, Rose Uerling, Nancy Johnson, Bill Mueller, Chris Klein, Mike Shaw, Annette Quillan, Mike Olsen and six others (two by correspondence read by Mark Barnett) all spoke, and none were in favor of parking fees for one reason or another.  None of these, nor the two that followed me, were in favor of parking fees at Stearns Beach.  That fact alone made my comment all the more appropriate.

XLFD:  "At the beginning of every meeting we pledge allegiance to the republic of the United States, and we should always remember that the principles of our nation's republic filters down to the municipal level.  In a republic the power is held by the people and their elected representatives, nine of you are in that last category, six representing over one thousand citizens, three representing every Ludington citizen.

In representing the people, you want to keep an ear open to figure out the will of the majority of your constituents and generally vote for the most popular policy.  When you choose not to without a good reason, you risk your political future at the next election.  

When considering parking fees at Stearns Beach, keep in mind that polls show that less than ten percent of the folks in Ludington want them-- zero percent in this audience so far-- even when told that they may have some exemption and that the money would go to recoup the costs of maintaining the park.  You may be able to spend a lot of our money to market and to educate the public to get those polls into the double digits of acceptance but expect to always see a solid 80%+ against this fee scheme.  

If you can't recall those numbers when it comes time to cast a vote on this topic, those numbers may just recall you and your peers.  [END]

If this meeting was to educate the public and positively market the parking fee program, and it definitely was in that first hour, city leaders should have gotten the better education by the end of the meeting when 19 of the assembled people spoke out against the concept, and the fifty others were among the hardest clappers when that was allowed.  This should be dead in the water at this point, but thanks to certain tone-deaf councilors, we will likely see this dragged onto the beach and see the chest compressions continue for a few more months.

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Is this being proposed to just raise revenue? Where are these kiosks going to be installed. If at the entrance to the beach then this will cause a bottle neck at that point. If the lot is full and you buy a parking tab and there are no available parking spaces where do you park until an opening is available? How do you keep track of the cars entering and exiting to determine if any spots are available?

Have those proposing this figured out that the tourists are here to enjoy the town and spend their money while they are  here? Many will want to visit Stearns everyday but if forced to pay then they will simply go somewhere else. Locals will be forced to pay for something they already pay for with their taxes.

Muskegon began a pay to park program last year I believe, locals don't have to pay but everyone else does, think it's $5 or you can purchase a 'season' pass for something like $20. They also blocked off a bunch of what were parking spots south of the park/beach that most people use which made zero sense to me. I like going down there to the beach sometimes to take pictures of the sunset or if there is something happening down there that might be worth taking pictures of, for example, in late April, a ship was attempting to enter the channel and ended up getting grounded (coincidentally, the same ship got stuck trying to enter the same channel almost a year prior to the day), so I went down and took a few pictures. At that point, the parking fee's were not in effect so no issue with that, after May 15th though, through I think Sept 15th, you got to pay. All the pay to park thing does for me is keeps me from going down there to take pictures, I end up going down to Grand Haven instead to the State park. Just don't see the sense in paying to park for 10 or so minutes, if I'm going to an event where I'll be parked for hours, sure, no problem paying for that, for a relatively short amount of time? Not so much

That's a good point Dave. I think most people drive in for a short period of time, say under 1/2 hour or less. I know some folks who do it everyday. Both citizens of Ludington and those that live outside the City limits. How can these people be saved from paying the greedy kiosk fees? How about those folks that walk to Stearns? Should they be charged. This kiosk idea is as nutty as most of the ideas the Council comes up with.

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