By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008
They have scared away patrons of restaurants, put fear into Sunday worshipers and given indigestion to dinner party guests.
Not raucous and rowdy fans of the Washington Nationals baseball team. No, it's the District's hawk-eyed parking enforcement brigade, including city-owned tow trucks that prowl the streets during games.
The District's aggressive enforcement of new parking rules in neighborhoods near Nationals Park drew criticism as well as praise last night at a community meeting sponsored by D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), whose district includes areas around the stadium.
More than 200 people packed a room at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church to voice their opinions to Wells, D.C. Department of Transportation Director Emeka C. Moneme and Department of Public Works Director William O. Howland Jr.
Many said that the District was too vigilant, ticketing and towing cars that had no connection to baseball. Cars in violation receive a $30 ticket and a tow to the parking lot at the old D.C. General Hospital, Howland said.
"I actually had two employees quit because of parking tickets," said Joyce N. Thomas, president and chief executive of the Center for Child Protection and Family Support, which aids abused children. The center is at 714 G St. SE, more than a mile from home plate.
Parking around the ballpark has been a thorny issue, but not in the way city officials had expected. Debate raged over adequacy of city-provided spaces for the 41,000-seat stadium, but during most games, lots have been less than full, Wells said.
Moneme said at least 60 percent of fans have taken Metro to games.
Wells told the crowd that the city was trying to balance residents' desire to park freely against the need to accommodate visitors to such commercial sites as Eastern Market and Barracks Row.
To ensure availability of parking for residents on game days, the city created a pilot program in areas in the ballpark zone. One side of each street is for cars with a Ward 6 residential parking permit. On the other, cars without permits may park for two hours, a restriction not relaxed until midnight.
Imposing the two-hour limit so late into the night has limited people invited to dinner parties, Wells said. Several people have emerged from spending more than two hours dining at his home to find their cars ticketed, he said.
Each household also received a guest pass, city officials said.
Business owners said last night that the rules are a burden to customers and employees.
Betsy Allman, who works for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and lives blocks from the ballpark, said a restaurant reported a 60 percent decline in dinner business on game nights. Others said that employees have had their cars ticketed and towed.
Moneme said the new parking program was being worked out. "It is not our policy to hurt businesses," he said.
Churchgoers also questioned the virtue of aggressive enforcement, which several said requires them to listen to sermons with an eye on their watches.
"Is it being done to squeeze out the African American churches in this community?" said Cheryl Kelley, a Maryland resident who is a member of Ebenezer United Methodist Church at Fourth and D streets SE.
Visitor passes exempting congregants from restrictions have been supplied to churches.
Not everyone came to complain, however. Some praised the city's vigilance, saying that for the first time in years, they could find a parking space outside their homes.
Michael Wilson, who lives in the 100 block of D Street SE, described himself as "a vociferous supporter of the pilot program."