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City commission approves pilot program for “busking,” delays downtown parking enforcement

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the February 3 Gainesville City Commission meeting, the commissioners discussed a pilot program for busking, delayed enforcement of the new parking rules until June 1, and decided to give the developer of the GNV RideRTS mobile application more time to fix the problems with the app.

Busking pilot program

The agenda item on “busking” (outdoor performances) was put on the agenda at the request of Commissioner Harvey Ward, but Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and Reina Saco said it’s something they’ve also been working on. Ward said there are already outdoor performances in Gainesville but no organized program. Saco said the idea is for a limited proposal to pay some artists to perform for a year or two in the community and “see how our community and our public engages with those artists.” She suggested a pilot program of $25,000 to pay some artists selected by an entity such as the Cultural Affairs Board. 

Hayes-Santos said he also supported providing a “financial floor” to artists to try it and see if they can make money at it. 

Hayes-Santos made a motion to move forward with the street performance pilot at a cost of $25,000, with the Interim City Manager identifying a source for the funds. The motion passed unanimously.

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Downtown parking

Next up was a discussion on the recent parking changes downtown, also requested by Ward. He introduced the item by saying, “Frankly, I think we overstepped. I would like to see us… roll this back until we have more going on downtown. And I don’t know exactly when that date might be.”

Ward continued, “I want everybody to understand parking is not free. We all pay for parking. It’s coming out of our taxes to make parking available, particularly parking garages… This is something we are going to need to take on. It won’t go away. And we are in that growth phase as a community where we’re going to have to do some things that are different… Paid parking is one of those things. It’s not going to be free forever.” 

Commissioner David Arreola agreed with temporarily rolling back the changes but said, “The intention was to reduce the amount of time people spent in their car because when you look at carbon emissions in this city, it’s really coming from two places: GRU and car usage. So the less time that cars are on the road, the better.”

Hayes-Santos recommended just delaying enforcement of the parking rules for a month or so to fine-tune the program. 

Saco pointed out that the commission didn’t vote on the specifics of the program but set a maximum parking fee and asked the City Manager’s office to implement a paid parking program: “We should have been more involved in what actually goes out.” She said she’d thought the coin parking meters would stay because not everyone has a cell phone, but that didn’t happen “and we had to bring them back.” She said that if time-limited free parking were reinstated, she would like to see more enforcement so people didn’t park there all day. She asked about the current title of those people and was told they are “Parking Ambassadors.” She also advocated for parking permits that businesses could give to employees to use while working.

Ward moved to suspend the parking changes until June 1 and regroup prior to that “to make sure that we have made the appropriate implementation plans and work with the folks who live and work downtown in the process.” Hayes-Santos added that time limits should still be enforced during that time. 

During public comment, City Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut suggested getting input from downtown business owners and considering the impact on people who don’t have smartphones. A number of business owners told commissioners that their employees were struggling with the parking rules and that customers had turned around and gone home in frustration. They also complained that commissioners had moved up the agenda item, saying that they’d expected it to be heard about an hour later. 

County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said the parking system was an issue for people from outlying communities who needed to come to downtown to take care of government business or meet with commissioners. She said if it continues, the County may need to provide locations outside downtown for the public to conduct government business: “This is not the goal that any of us have for downtown Gainesville. We want Gainesville to be a vibrant community and welcoming community and one that’s easily accessible.”

The motion passed 5-1, with Mayor Lauren Poe in dissent.

RTS mobile app problems

The board discussed issues with the RTS mobile app, which currently has one star on the app store. Requests for changes were submitted to the developer in December, and they were given six months to fix the app. Hayes-Santos made a motion to have the item come back in March for an update, but that died for lack of a second. The board eventually directed the Interim City Manager to send them a monthly memo, starting in March, with an update on the developer’s progress in fixing bugs. They also asked her to conduct surveys of bus riders. 

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