If Luke Ravenstahl wanted to solve Pittsburgh's biggest parking problem, he could do it today with a couple of phone calls.
Instead, the mayor is merely tweaking the margins. Last week, he asked city council to change the enforcement hours for street meters in response to complaints from motorists about the new 10 p.m. cutoff. Council might even be willing to go along with rolling the deadline back to 6 p.m. It would please people who park in city business districts in the evenings, as well as the owners of the restaurants, theaters and clubs they patronize. The mayor and council members have been hearing from plenty of them lately.
But changing the enforcement hours won't address the real problem: Council raised the meter rates effective June 1, but the Pittsburgh Parking Authority won't share the wealth.
The authority is a quasi-independent body whose members serve at the mayor's behest. Right now, the only member acting in the best interest of residents citywide is Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak. The other three -- city finance director Scott Kunka, Downtown lawyer Linda Judson and Christopher D'Addario, an owner of the Just Ducky Tours -- have refused to approve a new agreement regarding how much revenue the authority passes on to the city.
This is important because, when council adopted higher meter rates and longer enforcement hours, the strategy was intended to save the city's pension plan from a state takeover, a development that almost certainly would trigger higher taxes for all city residents. Late last year, council passed a pension bailout that tapped $735 million in parking tax revenue over 30 years. Doing so left a perennial hole in the city's operating budget, which council intended to fill with revenue from the meters.
That's why council was hoping the authority would increase its annual payment to the city from the current $1.3 million a year to $2.6 million this year and $9.3 million annually thereafter. But council can't compel the authority to cooperate.
Mr. Ravenstahl is the one person with the necessary influence over the parking authority members, the one person who can force their hands.
Changing the enforcement hours for meters in seven city business districts might be a popular move, and it might even been a good idea. But Mr. Ravenstahl has a duty to all city residents to prevent a state takeover that could end up dictating higher property, wage or other tax rates.
All it would take is a couple of phone calls.