Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council Sets Aug. 29 Public Hearing on Towing, Parking Changes

Fquasie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Members of the public will be able to address Birmingham city councilors Aug. 29 regarding proposed changes to local ordinances regulating towing from paid parking lots in the city.

At their regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting, councilors voted unanimously to set the public hearing on the changes for later this month.

City councilors are considering revisions to the ordinances after widespread public complaints about predatory towing and other parking-related issues around Birmingham.

Frank Matthews, one of the many Birmingham residents concerned about the actions of private lot owners and operators, attended Tuesday’s meeting to bring councilors’ attention to a ticket he’d received from a private parking lot.

Matthews said he received the so-called “ticket” not long after his brother had died, alleging he’d parked illegally in the downtown area at a time when Matthews said he knew he was grieving and hadn’t been out of the house.

Councilor Darrell O’Quinn said the practice of private parking lots issuing photo citations is a relatively new and uncommon practice but is something the body will consider when rewriting city regulations.

“We have a couple of private lots around the city that I’m aware of that have started doing automated citations,” O’Quinn said. “They have cameras installed on the lot, and if you’re not there paid, they’re simply mailing you a citation from a private entity.”

O’Quinn said that Matthews’ complaints were timely given the public hearing on towing and parking issues later this month.

Residents Complain About Predatory Towing Downtown, Say It Will Stall Economic Development if Not Fixed

Discussions among the council’s transportation committee members over the past two months suggest that the changes under consideration primarily involve standardizing signage in paid parking lots across the city.

In a July 24 transportation committee meeting, councilors discussed proposed changes with representatives of the Birmingham Department of Transportation and the Office of the City Attorney.

During the meeting, multiple councilors expressed a desire for the city to require parking rates to be physically posted on a sign in the lot itself.

Christina Argo, with the city’s transportation department, said that requiring parking lot operators to physically post prices may not be realistic because of dynamic pricing models, which allow companies to change parking costs at a moment’s notice.

“I feel like it’s their right to be able to change pricing, and if they’re doing it hour by hour, how do we account for that?” Argo asked in the meeting.

Councilor Clinton Woods responded.

“I’m not saying we can,” Woods said. “We’re just saying it’s your (parking lot operators’) responsibility to communicate to the people who are parking in your lot.”

More Property in Amphitheater Project

In other business, the council voted for a second time to authorize the mayor to convey property to a private entity, Northside Redevelopment LLC, related to the amphitheater project. Councilor Valerie Abbott voted against the item, and Councilor Carol Clarke abstained.

The council also approved a payment of $65,000 to the Birmingham Times Media Group LLC in return for 50 weekly copies of the paper and, according to the council agenda, providing “essential information and public awareness to the citizens on City Codes, Ordinances, programs, services, and other related concerns to positively support the Birmingham communities.”

Councilor Hunter Williams said that while he understands the city has some obligation to publish legal notices of meetings and other information, the scope of the funding seemed “excessive.”

“It just seems that having 50 copies of the Times for $65,000 in taxpayer money is excessive in terms of an actual spend with that,” he said.

The vote and Williams’ comments come just days after the conclusion of the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual conference, held here in the Magic City, at which Jesse J. Lewis, Sr., founder and publisher emeritus of The Birmingham Times, was inducted into organization’s hall of fame.

Lee Hedgepeth is an investigative journalist based in Birmingham. He is the author of Tread by Lee, a newsletter of Southern journalism.