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Parking proposals draw fire

Rogue Community College students and staff members who attended a public forum on campus Wednesday said the city's proposed downtown parking rules are unfairly targeting them and that other options should be considered.

They also said if the city raises parking fees in the area surrounding the RCC campus, it could hurt local businesses because students likely would leave the area as soon as possible rather than stay downtown after class to eat and shop.

Medford Deputy City Manager Bill Hoke presented two options the city is considering to generate more revenue, including one-hour parking limits on streets, charging for lots that now offer two or three hours of free parking and reducing the rates for parking in garages to encourage more people, including RCC students, to use them.

The proposed changes would create a solid revenue source for maintaining the parking system rather than relying on collecting fines from tickets, Hoke said. "The first thing I want to tell you is our minds are not made up," he said.

"I know we're not going to come up with a plan that everyone likes, but it is important to have a plan that everyone can at least support."

Many of the students argued that placing one-hour time limits on spaces is a bad idea because most classes are two hours. Students would be forced to either leave class early or pay more to park.

"We have many students who are struggling in this economy and have decided to go to school after losing a job," said Ellen Husel, the RCC student body director of health and wellness. "The concern is that many students feel like they are the scapegoat and are expected to raise revenue for a lot of other things in the city."

Part-time RCC instructor Dale Sandberg said he wasn't against paying to park in the downtown area but feels the city's proposals are geared at collecting most of the money from students.

"I'm willing to pay my fair share, but this seems to be beyond my fair share," he said. "We need a broad plan that focuses on the entire city and not just the blocks surrounding the school."

The plans Hoke described included a "sports stadium-like" approach to downtown parking, which means the rates would increase the closer the spaces are to RCC and other businesses.

"If you want to park a bit farther away you can pay less than what you would pay to park right across the street from the school," he said.

Lisa Marie Richard, student government vice president, said she supported a package that includes a bulk rate parking fee for students.

"Why not charge students up to $35 a term to park in one of the lots or garages near the school?" she said. "You could take it out of their tuition and it might not be such a burden."

Hoke said plans call for hiring additional security guards in the downtown parking structures. Many of the students said they don't feel safe at night in the garages because they are poorly lit and because the students rarely, if ever, see security on patrol.

Hoke said he hopes the city will have a plan by next spring.

"What I've presented today is not set in stone," he said. "We hope to get something considerably better after hearing your input."

Either way, RCC staff member Jessica Cordero wants the issue to be settled soon.

"I've been attending these kinds of meetings for years," she said. "I don't want to be seeing the forums going on eight years from now."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.