Oxymoron: Parking in Old Town

parking ticket

by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….

Oxymoron is defined as a figure of speech that is incongruous and seemingly self-contradictory. Thus, I present to you the phrase “parking in Old Town.” The problem here is not that there is no place to park in Old Town. There are lots of places to park. It’s just that there are often more drivers looking for parking spaces– usually free parking spaces– than there are spaces. And it’s not like city commissioners and city managers haven’t been trying to address this problem for years. They have. And although I have been a frequent critic of the less-than-productive just-pass-another-law mentality of city government officials, I have to report here that there seems to be some progress being made. New businesses are required to provide some off-street parking. More city-managed parking lots and parking garages have been constructed in recent years. And an initially-ineffective residential parking permit program has evolved that at least increases the odds that Old Town residents might find a place to park anywhere close to where they live.

The original Old Town parking permit program, introduced several years ago, was a fiasco. About 1000 or so parking spaces in Old Town were marked “Residential Parking.” But all you needed to legally park in one of these spaces was the word “Monroe” on your license plate. That included virtually every car-owner in the Keys! And to make matters worse, there was virtually no enforcement.

Last year, however, a new Old Town parking permit program was introduced that made more sense. Residents can pay $10 for an annual parking permit that allows legal parking in a space marked “residential parking.” Simple. Although I dutifully went down and bought my sticker, I– in my vast wisdom– also predicted that this new program wouldn’t be any more effective than the original program. I cited the fact that thousands, of permits would be sold to other than true, full-time Old Town residents– like all island residents, like all owners of property in Old Town, like all military personnel stationed in Key West, like all snow birds who live in Old Town more than four months a year and like all business vehicles associated with any island business. I also predicted that there would be little or no enforcement.

I was right about permit sales. Last year, more than 7000 parking permit stickers were sold that allow parking in the 1000 spaces marked “residential parking.” But I was wrong about enforcement. City Public Information Manager Alyson Crean told me this week that more than 5000 tickets were written last year for residential parking violations– at $30 a pop. And money is budgeted for an additional residential parking enforcement officer.

I guess I am sort of an “expert witness” when it comes to the residential parking permit program, since I live in Old Town and have a parking sticker. I don’t think my residential situation is much different than most other Old Town residents. I like living in Old Town because I can walk to just about anywhere I need to go. But I also have a car– and there are very few parking spaces in my immediate neighborhood. Although I can park briefly at the yellow curb in front of my apartment building if I have to unload stuff, I usually have to drive several blocks up the street to find legal parking. And many of those spaces are marked “residential parking.” Sure. It would be a lot more convenient to have a dedicated parking space right in front of where I live. But I have chosen to live in Old Town. And a nice little walk in a beautiful town never hurt anybody.

So for the past year, although my sticker gave me some peace of mind that I would not be ticketed for parking in a residential parking space, I really assumed that there was not any enforcement anyway– until a couple of weeks ago. Walking back to my car, I saw a note that had been placed under my windshield wiper. It was simply a reminder that my parking sticker was expiring in a couple of weeks. What?! Some “enforcer” has actually been looking at my sticker– maybe every day! And the same folks who carry around ticket books are also providing a reminder service. A whole new concept in city government. My experience may or may not be typical, but I can tell you this: Having a residential parking permit makes my life easier.

While city government officials have been trying to give island residents at least some priority when it comes to parking, they have not forgotten that, every day, there are thousands of other drivers trying to find parking in Old Town– up-the-Keys residents coming in to their jobs in Old Town or for shopping or entertainment– as well as tourists, who bring millions of dollars a year into our economy. Believe it or not, there are still 750 free on-street parking spaces in Old Town– but everybody can legally park in those spaces, including residents with parking permits. In addition, there are now almost 1900 for-pay parking spaces in Old Town, on the street and in city-managed parking lots and parking garages. Monthly parking permits are available for the city parking garage on Caroline Street for $25 per month.

Here’s what you need to know. If you have a permit to park in spaces marked “residential parking” in Old Town, your permit expires on November 1. If you live on the island and drive a car, but don’t have a parking permit, you can purchase a sticker for $10 at the Property Assessor’s Office at the Harvey Government Center on Truman at White. If you choose not to buy a permit– or if you don’t qualify to buy a permit– you need to know that the residential parking program is now being enforced and, if you gamble that you won’t get caught if you park in one of those spaces marked “residential parking,” it will probably cost you $30.


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10 thoughts on “Oxymoron: Parking in Old Town

  1. Here are the exact numbers:

    The first year of the Key West Residential Parking Sticker program sold 7,184 Residential Parking Permits. At $10 each, that was an extra $71,840 dollars for the city (minus whatever costs there were for making the stickers and administration expenses that were paid to the county for selling them). There were a total of 5,232 violations issued for vehicles that were parked in residential spaces without a sticker. 5,232 sounds like a lot, but it is only 14 a day.

    It is interesting to note that according to the City’s website, there are “approximately” only 1,000 residential parking spaces. What does “approximately” mean? A bit more or less than 1,000 or a lot more or less than 1,000? That is a great racket. Sell more than 7 stickers for each spot. How is that ethical?

    With the ticket cost for parking in a residential space without a sticker at $30, that would mean over another $150,000 in income from the program. I’m curious if this is really more about an easy way for the city to bring in another $225,000+ in easy revenue or to provide parking for Old Town residents.

    Finally, the population of Key West only around 25,000. Is there really more than one car for every 3 driving age citizens? I have the feeling that a LOT of stickers are being sold to non-Key West residents and others who don’t meet the eligibility criteria.

  2. Colby, after Hurricane Wilma, Assistant City Manager John Jones told me the city lost 10,000 motor vehicles in one hour, due to salt water flooding. That was in the lower lying areas, where Wilma’s tidal surge put 3 1/2 feet of seawater onto the island. Motor vehicles parked in the city where the elevation was higher, perhaps 1/2 of the city area, were not damaged.

    During the 2013 city races, at the Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum for the mayor candidates, incumbent Craig Cates and challengers Margaret Romero and myself, we were asked what did we feel could be done about the lack of parking space in Old Town and congested city streets? I think I got to go first. I asked the forum moderator, who had read out the question, if she wanted a political answer or a real answer. She said a real answer. I said there is nothing that can be done. The city sold out to development and the city is way overbuilt and there are way too many motor vehicles in the city, on top of the vehicles that come in driven by people from up the Keys and by tourists. However, if half of the people living in Key West moved to the mainland, that would help the parking and traffic congestion problems. I had forgotten to mention banning locally-owned conch trains and trolleys from city streets. Mayor Cates and Margaret Romero then told what they thought could be done to solve the twin problem, which I knew would not make a dent in it. .

    1. As of 01 October 2015, there were 75,248 cars and motorcycles registered in Monroe County. That is an important number to keep in mind because according to the State of Florida website the estimated total population of Monroe County in 2014 was 77,136 so we have about one vehicle per drivers Monroe County resident.

      Strangely enough, however, there are 72,108 licensed drivers in Monroe County, After you take out all the kids who are too young to have a license, there are 112% of the eligible people in Monroe County who possess Monroe County Florida Drivers Licenses. That means that not only would EVERY person who is 18 years and older have to have a drivers license, but an additional 9,302 people would need to have a Monroe County drivers license as well to reach that level of 72,108 licensed drivers. That is an AMAZING level of drivers license fraud. I have a feeling that this also directly leads to a similarly high level of multiple residence voter fraud, but that is another story.

  3. Colby of course its a revenue producing scam. you don’t really think the city cares one iota about the parking do you? if they did the stickers would be free not 10 bucks a crack. as for tickets at 30 bucks each I of course need say nothing. been here for the past 38 years and watched kw grow into a very rich municipality with upwards of $40 million in reserve accounts a few years back. peek at the annual cafr for the current figure. best of cheers. wjm

    1. Mr. Wankajam, It costs money to administer and enforce a program like this. Ten dollars a year seems reasonable, especially if those paying this enormous sum will get preferential treatment. ciao, PCM

      1. but jerry 10 bucks times 7000 is $70,000 smackers and sure seems like a huge bunch of money for your admin costs.

        remember the ticket packers are there anyway and already paid by the meter tagged so a little ticketing on residents spaces add to the ‘quota’.

        it makes lots of money for the city. but then again to say its a rip off one need to ‘think out of the box’!!!!!

  4. First off just because the tag says Monroe does not mean the car is even registered to a Monroe county address and is 100% legal. A FL tag is kept for 10 years and anyone in Fl can renew the plate sticker in any county or renew the tin plate by simply going to any Monroe tax office or even by mail. In short a tag saying Monroe just indicates county the tag was purchased. Our plate says Monroe but we do not call KW our main home. No I do not buy the resident permit as it would be wrong even with us paying rent in KW for about 30 days of a year.

    Now part of your math is off as some homes and apartments have off street parking and not all that get the sticker live here full time.
    Also some residents keep out of state plates but might qualify for the sticker as they own or pay rent here.

    Am curious as to exactly what proof is required to get that sticker. A person just might rent a place for a month and purchased the sticker. Nothing says they will be paying rent next month.

    What about the people on boats staying on Wisteria island but pay rent for a dingy ? Would a post office box for mail qualify ? They might simply be renting a couch at someones house.

    Yes parking is a major problem in KW and will never get solved.

    My question is why does KW find a need to charge for parking on Duval st as it seems to deter customers. Yes brings in money but the rate is very high.

    We visit KW several times a year and only stay at places with parking. We find it cheaper to just call a call a cab as the fee is usually under $10 even with a nice tip.

    I have no solution to the problem other than perhaps the fine of $30 just might be too low. What might I ask is the total cost for of the meter readers and ticket writers. That number after wages , benifits , gas, insurance, vehicle and admin cost likely eat up all the fine and sticker money.

    For us it is easier to call 296-6666 and get dropped off where we want to be. Very fast friendly service and keep some workers eating

  5. Out of the 7,000 residential stickers how many of those vehicles are actually registered to a KW address?

    It might be as simple as requiring someone to bring in the vehicle registration in order to get their sticker.

    What I have always wondered is; every year at FF someone charges money to park in the United States Post Office parking lot at Eaton and Whitehead, where does that money go?

    This year someone was charging to park in the Monroe County courthouse parking lot on Thomas St., where does that money go?

    Does the county rent the parking lots? Who gets the revenue?

    Who makes the decision of who gets to rent the spaces? Is there any type of insurance requirement?

    Several years ago I was told that I had to move my vehicle from the Post Office parking lot or be towed. Who authorized the person to have vehicles towed?

    1. I do not understand what you want from us. I live on the Key West part of Stock Island. I pay property tax to the city. I get almost NO police protection or presence but that is a different story.I am a FL resident, I vote here too.
      So if (and I do) get a Resident parking pass and use it to park in Residential parking you folks think that is wrong because I live here only 7 months out of the year. Of course it IS your rule, and I do pay the $10. So what would you have it be? How about if you have a driveway or a yard with TWO or even MORE vehicles and a boat parked, do you think that you should have to pay for a permit to park out in the street in a Resident parking spot? Do you want all of us that are not Conchs to leave the island? What gives? I have friends whose kids have been born in Key West but are not considered “Conchs”…Why? What gives?. The municipal rules are made by people that we vote for…they are not made for just a few “old timers”!! Thanx for your consideration-I usually go downtown to spend money…

  6. The Post Office parking lot is leased out to a private parking company owned by a neighbor two doors down from me. He has people there to monitor and control the cars that arrive both during and after Post Office business hours. It may not seem kosher, but it is a legitimate business, and the Post Office sold him the rights. Not happy? Put in a better bid the next time the opportunity arises.

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