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Musings: Parking meter deja vu

A front-page headline in a recent issue of The Sonoma Index-Tribune declared “Parking study eyes meters, district,” That story triggered memories buried deep in recesses of my brain that our fair city has been here before.

Sure enough, a quick search of our archives led to the discovery of the following quote from D.W. King, who was a Sonoma City Council member and mayor in the late 1940s. King said in 1952, “When you bring up parking meters in Sonoma you are asking for trouble.”

King knows whereof he speaks. He was mayor on Dec. 3, 1948 when this banner headline and story was spread across the front page of the I-T:

“PARKING METERS FOR SONOMA, New Income Source on Trial Basis.”

The story announced the city’s approval of a six-month trial of parking meters in downtown Sonoma. The contract was with a company to install “Park-O-Meters” on Napa Street, Spain Street, Broadway, First Street East and First Street West. The story indicated the meters would start arriving in approximately two weeks.

A spokesman for the meter company said they were “…the most modern and reasonable device of its kind…fully automatic, operated by just dropping a coin in a slot. One penny buys 12 minutes of parking time, a nickel gives the parker an hour.”

Each meter cost $61.50 installed. The 250 meters around Sonoma would raise $15,000 a year for the City of Sonoma.

That announcement was followed one week later with another front-page story that declared more than 200 Sonoma business owners had signed a petition against the installation of parking meters. They and their petition appeared at the next city meeting. It was one of the largest crowds in the history of the City Council.

August Pinelli, owner of a hardware store on the Plaza, a former mayor himself, was the designated spokesman for the protesters and told the council that he believed public sentiment was 80 percent against the idea of parking meters, stating also that Sonoma citizens “… should have been sounded out before the meter contract reached the signing stage.”

Among the many objections put forth by the business community was the opinion that the meters would retard retail trade in Sonoma – probably at the heart of the issue.

No action was taken at that second meeting, but Mayor King apparently had second thoughts. According to the I-T, “… the signed contract for the parking meter was still in mayor’s pocket.” And there it apparently remained, until New Year’s Eve, December 1948, when the city council formally “tabled” any action on parking meters.

But, primarily because during those post war years the City of Sonoma was always strapped for cash, the subject of installing parking meters for the purpose of raising revenue kept coming up every so often at city meetings.

When discussion turned more serious in 1952, former Mayor King, the guy who kept that parking meter contract in his pocket, reminded his successors that they should not go down that road. The subject of installing parking meters in Sonoma came up again in the 1960s, but never got passed exploratory discussion.

How far this 21st Century version will go will be interesting to see.

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