Keep the streets free

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On Wednesday, Student Government hosted a town hall meeting to discuss proposed parking meters in West Campus. The proposal was first put forth last March by University Area Partners (UAP), an organization of local businesses, housing developments, churches and other interested groups that claim to represent the interests of West Campus.

Under the proposal, up to 400 currently free parking spaces throughout West Campus would be eliminated, either replaced by metered parking or restricted to the few residents who would be eligible for parking permits.

UAP claims the meters are necessary to make improvements to West Campus’ infrastructure. “It’s really about taxing the people that commute in to pay for pedestrian and bike improvement,” UAP member Brian Donovan told The Daily Texan last week.

But the reality is that West Campus residents use the majority of those spots — not commuters. The round-the-clock demand for resident street parking in West Campus means that commuters don’t stand a chance at snagging a valuable parking space. Drive through West Campus at night — when all of the hypothetical commuters should be gone — and try to find a parking spot. You won’t.

UAP claims to represent the interests of West Campus, yet the vast majority of the neighborhood’s residents are unaware of its very existence. That’s because UAP represents the interests of the businesses of West Campus, not the residents.

To really understand the issue behind the proposed parking meters, one needs to only look at which parties will most benefit.

In 2004, UAP helped pass the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO), which changed zoning codes in West Campus and allowed for the influx of high-rise apartment complexes such as The Block, Quarters and Jefferson West. During the last four years, 20 new high-occupancy complexes have been built, most funded by out-of-state real estate companies such as CWS, the holding company that owns The Block’s seven complexes.

UNO also had provisions to ensure that parking leases were not included in housing contracts, meaning students were not required to rent a parking space along with their room. The result is that the vast majority of parking garages in West Campus are not near capacity. Those empty parking spaces typically lease for anywhere from $75 to $100 a month.

Simply put, when students park their cars on the street for free, the apartment complexes lose money.

However, those empty garages are not the only commercial interests at play. Several complexes were zoned for first-floor commercial use, which is why there are so many restaurants and convenience stores at the bottom of these complexes However, many of those businesses have found West Campus to be a less fertile business ground than originally imagined. Business owners have complained that a lack of available parking is responsible for the lack of profits.

So, the proposed parking meters are better for everyone — if by everyone we mean both the apartment complexes and their commercial leases.

UAP should stop passing itself off as a neighborhood advocacy group and fess up to what it really is: a lobbying organization for the apartment complexes and area businesses.

In its defense, UAP does have one Student Government-appointed student representative. Yet a single representative, no matter how passionate, is insufficient to justify UAP’s claim to represent West Campus.

So Donovan is right, in one sense: the proposed parking meters are a tax — a tax on student apathy. The Student Government town hall meeting was attended by a paltry number of students, the vast majority of whom were SG members.

Those students who are working to reshape UAP to better serve the student body cannot do so alone. The student residents of West Campus, not just SG reps, must either make their feelings known or accept the consequences of their silence.

There are plenty of infrastructure improvements that need to be made in West Campus, especially on streets that have been torn apart by construction crews. But students shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of those costs, especially when so many others continue to enjoy the profits.