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Published: 4/21/2011

Parking wars

The ancient tale of David and Goliath appeals to our desire to root for the little guy who's locked in battle with a much larger foe. So Toledoans are inclined to sympathize with the owners of small downtown parking lots who have been told by city officials they must get licenses to charge people to park. That sympathy is at least partially misplaced.

These lots typically are open only on days of a special event downtown, such as a Mud Hens or Walleye game or a concert at Huntington Center. Their owners charge $5 or $10 a vehicle for a small number of spaces. Often, the lots are not paved, have no lines to mark parking spaces, and are poorly lit.

Owners of big commercial parking lots such as Kwik Parking charge as much as $20 to park for the same events. Those lots are paved, have marked spaces, and are well lit. These owners also have licenses.

Operators of small lots say they provide an alternative for angry customers who think charging $20 to park in Toledo is exorbitant. They complain that upgrading their lots would cost tens of thousands of dollars, so they'll either have to go out of business or charge as much as the commercial lots.

Tom Crothers, Toledo's deputy mayor for external relations, says the city wants to make sure that when visitors come downtown, "the experience is consistent and enjoyable." But if parking lots charge more on game days and concert nights than at other times, the experience is hardly consistent. And if it costs more to park than to buy a ticket to a ballgame, that isn't very enjoyable.

So why has the city suddenly decided to enforce an ordinance that has been around since 1952 and widely ignored? Was it for the $17,000 in license fees? Or because owners of big lots complained?

In this case, the city did the right thing, even if it did so for the wrong reasons.Laws cannot be selectively enforced. If the law says all parking lots must be licensed, paved, and lined, operators must respect those rules.

The owners of small lots have choices, but ignoring the law is not one of them. They could try to have the law repealed, but then there would be no standards at all for parking lots.

They could try to persuade City Council to carve out an exception for lots that have fewer than a certain number of spaces. Or they could exit the business.

Price competition is good for downtown visitors. It might keep big lots from taking advantage of eventgoers quite so outrageously. But don't feel too sorry for the little guys who would like you to believe they sell parking only occasionally.

The events they open for include 72 regular-season Mud Hens games, 36 Walleye games, and dozens of concerts at Huntington Center. So these lots could be open, on average, more than twice a week. That's more than occasional.

The way the city cracked down on the unlicensed lots was heavy-handed. The deadline for getting a license was Tuesday, but notices went out only last week. The explanation of the change in enforcement policy seems disingenuous.

Still, haphazard, unfair -- or no -- enforcement of city ordinances breeds contempt for all law. That can undermine a democratic society.



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