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Clark: Parking meters rob us of our character

Tue., July 2, 2013, midnight

There are two things you can always count on in Spokane:

The public hates downtown parking meters more than Alec Baldwin hates the media.

The evil elves running things around here don’t give a hoot about what we want.

The City Council proved this the other night by unanimously voting to proceed with a trial run of the very latest in spy meter technology.

These 200 parking meters (rumored to be designed by spooks at the NSA) sense when a car pulls into a spot and when said vehicle pulls out.

The things take credit cards and probably register your age, gender and political persuasion, too.

But here’s the real diabolical part.

When you depart, whatever time you’ve left on the meter will vanish quicker than Bernie Madoff emptying a toddler’s piggybank.

In my mind, this scenario adds up to one conclusion:

The City Council’s being paid off by NorthTown and the Spokane Valley Mall.

To be fair, however, not everyone outside of city government is against these klepto-meters.

Mark Richard, say.

The president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership told a reporter that he believes our new meter protocol will “enhance customer service.”

Hmm. Richard? Richard?

That name sounds vaguely familiar.

Oh, yeah. He was one of the Spokane County commissioners who thought flushing the public’s money on a toxic, mismanaged racetrack was a swell idea, too.

But as I was saying, parking in downtown Spokane has always been more irritating than jock itch on a 100-degree day.

There are still some people who won’t set foot in downtown Spokane because of our infernal meters.

And by some people I mean Spokane Valley, Millwood and Colbert.

But despite the problems, there has always been one redeeming aspect about downtown parking.

Namely, being able to share your unused time with the next motorist who comes along.

A silly joy, perhaps, yet true all the same.

Shoppers look at finding a little time left on a meter the same way the cast of “Gold Rush” looks at a finding stream full of nuggets.

But the time thing is only part of what bothers me.

The other part is a feeling that these unforgiving meters follow an unfriendly trend that seems to be creeping into our downtown.

The “mosquitoes,” for example.

I’m talking about those businesses that use electronic boxes (called “mosquitoes”) that emit a high-pitched, irritating noise designed to drive away kids who hang around on the sidewalk.

Then there are the cheap business owners who use real mosquitoes to drive loiterers away.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Clark, no tough street punk will run away because of a few lousy mosquitoes.”

Well, of course not.

You have to tell them the skeeters carry West Nile Virus.

That always makes them scatter.

From my experience, however, there’s a much kinder way to get rid of punks hanging around a store.

Offer them jobs.

Anyway, my hope is that Spokane can somehow get back to being that folksy, forgiving town that I remember back when I was growing up here.

And we can start by canceling that order for all those smart meters.

Spokane doesn’t need any new parking meters.

What we can use are parking meter attendants.

You know, like when you go to the swank Davenport Hotel and the young valets take care of you and your car.

Spokane could make a real name for itself by becoming the first city to have actual attendants on hand to hold your package or maybe squeegee your windshield while you’re plugging the meter.

I know. My idea sounds expensive.

But that’s only because you haven’t heard Part B.

Which is to make council members do the attending as part of their official duties.

It’s a win-win for us all when you think about it.

Spokane becomes a lot friendlier. And the council can’t screw us when they’re out of City Hall.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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