AUBURN — An Auburn judge and lawyer both expressed concern that an updated ban to overnight parking on Genesee Street could lead to an increase of drinking and driving in the city.
Auburn City Court Judge Michael McKeon and defense attorney Thomas Turturo both said during Thursday's Auburn City Council meeting that banning overnight parking on an extended portion of Genesee Street would be detrimental to public safety.
The current law prohibits parking from 4 to 7 a.m. on Genesee Street from William and Dill streets to Loop Road. The proposed parking ban would extend the ban to more parts of Genesee Street, from James Street to Owasco and John streets, and change the hours to 3 to 6 a.m.
The idea to extend the ban came from a complaint from the owners of Hunter's Diner: William and Rachel Juhl. The Auburn Police Department received a complaint from the Juhls in regard to lack of parking for customers due to downtown residents leaving their cars parked on the street for extended periods of time. The ban is also supposed to make it easier for the department of public works to plow the street in the winter.
McKeon, who presides over DWI court in Auburn, said when he drives on Genesee Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings around 9, he notices cars parked on the street. He said he assumes those cars were left by their owners who made a responsible choice to drink and not drive the previous night since no businesses are open that early in the morning. McKeon said he thinks the fear of getting a parking ticket will cause people to choose to drink and drive.
"You may be forcing people to decide between getting a parking ticket or drinking and driving and going home intoxicated," McKeon said.
He requested that council tweak the law, in the interest of "public safety," so the ban only covers Loop Road to John and Owasco streets.
Turturo agreed with the judge's suggestion, saying "James Street seems really far" to enforce the ban. He also addressed the snow removal portion of the ban.
"I do understand and appreciate that public works has been enjoying a little bit more ease in plowing out those parking spots in the winter," Turturo said. "I've noticed the improvement, but given the different considerations that we're weighing here, I think that's chump change. I think that's really got to take a minimal impact. I don't think that making a couple public employees' lives a little bit more convenient — no disrespect to public works who do a great job and have an extremely hard job..."
Mayor Michael Quill interrupted, saying "I think that comment was out of order. It's a mater of public safety in regards to snow removal. It's not in regards to making a public works employees feel better."
William Juhl said that in the three weeks the temporary parking ban has been in effect, the diner has seen big improvements in snow removal. He said last winter, three of their customers were injured trying to get to the diner because of poor snow removal.
"There is a safety issue, as far as getting the snow removed," Juhl said.
Juhl said he was offended by Turturo's "chump change" comment because he and his wife have invested their own money to keep the restaurant afloat. He said the lack of parking near the diner slashed Hunter's weekend business in half.
As far as the concerns about drinking and driving, Juhl said people should be responsible and make arrangements to get home safely or leave their car in the appropriate areas.
"Teenagers know this stuff," he said. "And now we're asking for an exception for adults who because they're not going to make the right choice?"
Council is scheduled to vote on the updated law — which also includes changes to some traffic laws in school zones, as well as removing a traffic signal and some parking meters downtown — on Jan. 18.