By Anna Lothson
Oak Park's overnight parking ban, dating back to 1937, has a rich, albeit tense history in the village, but sooner rather than later, village trustees and staff want to bring some of it up to date.
Trustees, however, made it clear at Monday evening's meeting they were not in favor of overturning the overnight ban entirely. The group agreed aspects such as how it's enforced and ensuring that on-street parking regulations are made easier for residents' overnight guests should be evaluated quickly. The ban itself will require some in-depth studying, which the board decided Monday should involve the village's Transportation Commission in reviewing the on-street parking restrictions.
Interim Parking Services Manager Jill Velan gave a brief history to the board and asked for direction on moving forward. Velan told trustees that Oak Park's parking ban is similar to neighboring communities, and removing the ban could have adverse effects that involve a spillover of parking from nearby communities.
The overnight parking ban was last challenged in 1975 when a resident filed a lawsuit against the village, questioning the validity of such a regulation. The courts ruled in favor of the village, and it has remained in place since, but with a series of tweaks. In 1980, an ordinance was established to allow overnight parking in various higher-density locations around the village.
Studies were done in the late '80s when the question of overturning the ban came back, but the village kept the ban. The '90s brought more changes creating the more patchwork system seen today. Trustees agreed Monday that there are flaws in the system that need to be worked through immediately.
These flaws include, as phrased by Village Manager Cara Pavlicek, the "very random" number of overnight guest passes residents are issued, the burdensome wait times residents face calling in to get a pass, and the confusion among visitors who don't realize where and when it's OK to park overnight in Oak Park.
"There are some absurd things that happen because of the cracks in the system," Trustee Adam Salzman said. He referenced the story of person with a rental car not being able to get a pass because the same model of car had already gotten a pass that day. He also spoke about Oak Park's reputation among tourists as being impossible to park in, particularly overnight.
Village President Anan Abu-Taleb suggested the village tackle the customer service issues and the number of passes issued annually per resident immediately and then study the overnight parking regulations entirely during the next year.
"We don't need to solve the entire issue at the same time," Abu-Taleb said. "We don't need to get rid of it, but we can modify it to help residents."
He also referenced numerous resident surveys that have been conducted over the years, which he said have increasingly favored eliminating the ban. The last survey taken showed 46 percent in favor of eliminating the ban and Abu-Taleb said he suspects that number has grown.
"Things have changed. I think we need to respond to that," he said.
Trustees were in favor of possibly conducting another resident survey and ensuring there are more opportunities for residents to weigh in on the conversation.
Staff recommended involving the Reinventing Government Committee and engaging the Alliance for Innovation to assist in the review. Pavlicek explained that the Alliance is a nonprofit membership organization for local governments that offers its perspective on developing best practices.
Trustee Peter Barber, who joined the meeting via phone, and Trustee Colette Lueck said reviewing the overnight parking system is really two issues as it involves what to do with parking and how to implement a more effective system. Short term, Barber wants quick fixes to the number of passes issued per resident and to create a more efficient method to get those passes.
The concept of reviewing the number of passes, currently five guest passes and 30 extended-stay passes for residents annually, also sparked the idea of determining if offering additional guest passes could be a new source of revenue for the village. Trustees at past meetings said they personally would pay more to get extra guest passes.
The tone of Monday's discussion was upbeat and they seemed generally in agreement on the issue. No one favored eliminating the ban, but everyone agreed modifications are needed.
"I've never been of the mindset that it needed to be repealed," Trustee Glenn Brewer said.
Trustees urged staff to move forward with a plan to create a draft that can be hashed out with trustees, the transportation commission and residents. The meeting wrapped up with plenty of ideas to move on and one clear direction: don't delay the process.