The Missoula City Council adopted an emergency ordinance Monday to change language in the city’s municipal parking codes to include the phrase “multi-space parking meter kiosks” instead of “parking meters.”
Technically, the city’s Parking Commission has already declared an emergency to "protect public health and safety" by rewording the city’s parking laws. That’s because the city recently completed a multi-year effort to replace the old parking meters downtown with the new “LUKE” kiosks that allow people to pay for parking based on their license plate numbers rather than what space they are parked in. However, the city’s municipal code still referred to "parking meters".
According to Geoff Badenoch, a member of the Parking Commission, the laws on the books do not reflect the new equipment and the revision is needed to avoid public confusion.
He said both the parking meters and the kiosks have been in place for months. However, the last of the meters will soon be removed, and Badenoch said the language of the law needs to now refer only to the kiosks.
"The city parking ordinance does not provide now for the multi-space kiosks," he said. "Now we need to have the ordinance reflect reality so citizens will know what is the correct way to park and what the penalties for not parking correctly are. I understand the frustrations with the use of the word 'emergency' but we consulted with the city attorney. It's not a flood on Higgins. But this is a long-term change and we wanted to implement it immediately so people know how to park."
The council actually waived a second reading of the proposed changes, which was scheduled for April 4, and instead immediately adopted the revision on Monday.
“Montana state law allows a city to waive the second reading in the event of an emergency and adopt the ordinance with a two-thirds of the whole governing body,” Badenoch wrote to the council. "We felt that making the change now was the most (effective) and best use of the council's time."
Myra Shults voiced her opposition to Missoula's new parking kiosks during the public comment period.
"If you waive the second reading, then contacting our council members before that date is an exercise in futility," she said. "The increased rates have been shoved down our throats. I, for one, will shop elsewhere rather than downtown. It seems to me Missoula is being regressive rather than progressive."
City Council member Emily Bentley said she was frustrated that council members were originally told they couldn't have any input on the whether the kiosks were installed, but now citizens who don't like them blame the city council.
"I don't want to create chaos in downtown Missoula, so I'm probably going to vote for it," she concluded. "But I'm frustrated. I wish the parking commission had come to us a year ago and asked for our input on this process."
The council also repealed a couple of ordinances that require local hotels and other lodging businesses to maintain a register of room occupants and then make it available for the public and law enforcement.
According to council president Marilyn Marler, the law is outdated. She said Police Chief Mike Brady and City Attorney Jim Nugent have confirmed to the council that law enforcement doesn’t need it to work effectively with hotels.
Marler also said privacy advocates have pointed out that the ordinance is problematic from a legal standpoint. A Supreme Court decision in 2015, Los Angeles v. Patel, found that such laws are illegal and an invasion of privacy, and the Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent Nugent a letter requesting the city make changes to the law.
City Clerk Marty Rehbein told the council that the Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional.
"The police department said they don't use this ordinance," Rehbein said. "They mostly get summoned by hotels, and if needed the hotels are cooperative and they can get warrants and proceed with normal channels rather than this particular piece of municipal code."
During public comment period, Kayla Blackman, the organizer of a coalition called "Save the Merc," told the city council that a petition to save the historic building from being demolished has garnered 1,350 signatures so far.