Guest Writer Taimi Dunn Gorman has been a Fairhaven customer since 1973. She was a founder of the Colophon Café in 1985 and a past president of both the Fairhaven Association and the Fairhaven Village Association. She helped create and named the “Fairhaven Village Green,” and created the “Fairhaven Ladies of the Evening Society.” She wrote the bestselling book, “Haunted Fairhaven.” She and her husband are “Builders of Bellingham” recipients from WWU, and she received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Fairhaven Association. She's written hundreds of customer service and business-related articles. Taimi is as passionate about Fairhaven’s future as she has been about its past. She also contends she will be one of the people standing in the rain trying to figure out parking machines, along with many others.
Once upon a time, before cars, condos and corporations, a poor woodsman came upon a hungry elf in the forest. The kind woodsman shared his last crust of bread. In return, the elf gave the man a goose, saying that if he cared for her, he would become wealthy.
Although the woodsman thought the elf was nuts, he accepted the goose, figuring it might be dinner for his impoverished family. The goose was so beautiful though, they kept her, and in the morning, they were rewarded with a golden egg. Each day after, she produced a valuable egg, and their days of poverty were gone.
Soon the family had all they ever wanted, but one egg a day wasn’t paying for things as fast as they bought them, and oddly enough, the town money lenders didn’t consider a stupid goose a good investment.
The woodsman, not being a rocket scientist, decided he could get all the eggs at once if he killed the goose. Inside there were no eggs.*
Hundreds of years later, a village named Fairhaven began killing their goose, only much more slowly. One might say their “goose is being cooked” on low heat. It has become a victim of its own success. If you haven’t yet heard about the new parking changes in Fairhaven, you’re not alone. Computerized metered parking has come to Fairhaven. A bean counter’s dream was hatched by the city of Bellingham.
I’ve been frequenting Fairhaven since I entered WWU in 1973. It also happens to be the year of the very first “Fairhaven Business District Study” formed by the city of Bellingham. Since then, there have been flocks of committees, proposals, and parking districts. I should know. I co-founded the Colophon Café in 1985, when many buildings were still boarded up and Mill Street was a gravel road. A boom was on its way.
Ten years ago, the City Council directed the Bellingham Public Works Department to form a committee to study the “perception” of the “lack of parking” situation. The Fairhaven Neighborhood Plan stated that through a magical thing called “parking management,” Fairhaven traffic could be reduced by 20%-40%. Although a few Fairhaven business property owners were included in this decision, no one directly asked the business owners if they were prepared to lose 20%-40% of their customers. It appeared merchants didn’t have the nerve to ask their employees or condo neighbors to park somewhere besides the front of their businesses.
Since 1994, 32 new buildings have sprouted up on every vacant lot once utilized for parking. The city requires one parking space for each 1 to 2-bedroom condo, and 1.5 car spaces (1/2 a car?) for more than 3 bedrooms. This leaves nearly every unit with a car parked on the street.
In a Fairhaven Merchant Zoom meeting on October 13th, 2021, (14 in attendance), rather than addressing new parking plans, Public Works reminded us lazy folk that we should take the bus, walk, or ride a bike. This alternative fairy tale of transportation has never gone well with the over 60 crowd, the disabled, and families with dogs, kids, and groceries, or anyone trying to get to work on time.
When Bellingham Public Works Director Eric Johnston was asked directly how much these 47 meters cost the city or how much they might expect in revenue, the pause was significant and a regurgitated worm of “we don’t know” was offered up. At no time did he mention that they ALREADY HAD THE METERS.
On October 27th, 2021, the city website magically noted that the computerized meters were originally purchased for downtown Bellingham before it was discovered they didn’t really need them. Instead of taking up space in a warehouse, the obvious resting place for them was Fairhaven. After all, it’s an easy thing to pull one over on the poor, seniors who can’t figure out their cell phones, and students who can’t afford pay parking while they wait tables for minimum wage. These people probably likely wouldn’t notice the upcoming meters until it was too late.
I began protesting the meters immediately. Residents and business owners sent letters to the city. I was informed by a City Council member that a vote on the meters had been pushed to Spring of 2022.
Despite the promise of a delayed decision and gathering more public opinion, the latest parking regulations were posted after a sudden 9:00 a.m. vote on January 24th by the Public Works Committee, rather than out in the open at a City Council meeting. There was no publicized agenda. Two out of three letters already received by the city were against the meters.
From Monday to Saturday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, customers are now punished for visiting Fairhaven. The cost is $1.00 per hour, slated to increase over time. The fee for an expired meter is $30. Hundreds of employees have no alternative parking, except for one permitted block on McKenzie Avenue (which sold out immediately to condo dwellers to avoid paying their garage fees). The meters range from 8th Street to 13th and from McKenzie Avenue to Knox. To avoid the cost, Fairhaven employees will be parking on neighborhood streets.
They plan to raise the rates as time goes on. This is only the beginning of the cooking of the goose, called “Progressive Parking Rates.” The video of this plot may be viewed online. Apparently, the City Council doesn’t think $1.00 per hour is a lot for most people to spend, even if they can figure out how the meters work on their cell phones.
These meters will NOT generate money for Fairhaven or future parking. It will become a bureaucracy that simply pays for itself to manage. In other words, the meters will encourage customers to leave Fairhaven as quickly as possible, or not visit at all. Gone are the days of leisurely lunches, followed by a stroll or shopping.
After the goose was shoved in the convection oven, and the meters in place, the Fairhaven Association and Parking Task Force pulled their heads from the sand and wrote to the City of Bellingham, reminding the city that they had conveniently forgotten their promise to identify and create new parking spaces before implementing paid parking.
Fairhaven got along just fine for a hundred years without parking rules. Poor planning all the way around has created an untenable situation. Since the meters went in, Fairhaven looks like a ghost town. Everyone is complaining.
My doctor is in Fairhaven, as are my physical therapist, clothing stores, bookstore, greeting card & gift store, jewelry store, and most of my favorite restaurants. I shop in Fairhaven rather than spending online and giving money to guys who like to shoot themselves into space, while thanking their poverty-stricken employees for paying for it.
As the goose bakes slowly, the meters are now installed and surprising Fairhaven visitors who didn’t expect them. An option might have been to sell the machines and begin working on alternative parking for employees.
The current recommendations to ride the bus or ride a bike are fabulous if you are 20, single, and live in San Diego. I am 66 and often use a cane due to arthritis and other issues. I don’t want to spend my Social Security on a parking space…even if it is in Fairhaven.
* Many other stories contain geese that lay golden eggs, though certain versions change them for hens or other birds that lay golden eggs. The tale has given rise to the idiom 'killing the goose that lays the golden eggs,’ which refers to the short-sighted destruction of a valuable resource, or to an unprofitable action motivated by greed.
Comments by Readers
Damon GrayMay 13, 2022
Our favorite stores and restaurants in Bellingham are located in Fairhaven. We knew this was coming but have not had the, “What do we do now?” conversation. We have not said that we are abandoning Fairhaven, but the annoyance of having to go feed the meter may have a cumulative effect that results in the same outcome.
I’m very saddened to see this happening.
Dick ConoboyMay 13, 2022
I believe the “industry” names for these meters are pay stations or kiosks. If these are the ones that they bought for downtown, most of us remember their short lives when they were installed to replace the individual parking meters and the business traffic plummeted. Each space was numbered and the individual drivers had to enter the stall number and then pay. At least that has not been the case in Fairhaven but you do have to have memorized your license plate number. Downtown, people (as in ME) often just wanted to plunk a coin in the meter and buy a bagel or pick up flowers. After the pay stations, people just said f*ck it. The meters were put back in place.
However, I have been in Fairhaven several times this week and found what looks like half the parking stalls vacant. I have also watch people try to figure out how to operate the pay station. One person wanted to put in coins but the slot was blocked. Others squinted at the screen or poked the buttons to no avail. Not all were old geezers like me. I park up on Harris, outside of the parking zone, a map of which I carry on my phone. Yesterday a car parked behind me but that was right smack in front of a driveway. A note from the home resident was attached under the miscreant’s winshield wiper.
And if you want to use the PayByPhone app, it will cost you 25 cents per transaction while the app will likely pull and sell your data. I wrote about this slicky scam a few years ago but it garnered a collective yawn. Bellingham Parking Fees Go to Volkswagen -Your PayByPhone app sends a flat fee of 25 cents per transaction to the coffers of Volkswagen Financial Services AG
Surely this is a solution in search of a problem.
Dianne FosterMay 13, 2022
And there are those of us age 75 and up who have stopped going there, because we don’t have cell phones. BTW, I’ve never had a problem finding a parking space in Fairhaven for anything, even if it means walking a few blocks. There are time limits anyway, so why do we need to pay? I don’t mind coin meters right in front of the car, which are easy to understand; anything else is too complicated to bother.
I must say I’m tired of bureaucracy making decisions for us, as in putting up a cancer-causing cell tower near 2 schools and many residences on Lake Whatcom, with “public input” that you know won’t make a rat’s ass of difference, as the contracts have already been signed with Big Telecoms Or huge, ugly, unaffordable apartment buildings in single family zoned neighborhoods , and the accompanying teardowns, like Ballard in Seattle. Entire historic home streets, like Billy Frank Jr, bulldozed for the for-profit developers like Hammer. Some of those demolished homes belonged to the original elite of Bellingham, including the first Fire Chief, with original architecture of the period. (I live on Sehome Hill, now renamed “Hammersville” for the hundreds of Hammer - For Rent signs on our streets - perpetual ugliness which the city refuses to do anything about).
Dick ConoboyMay 13, 2022
I reviewed he video of the 23 Jan meeting of the Public Works Committe. Council member Lilliquist clearly stated that the merchants and association(s) were consulted about the use of the parking pay stations and were not opposed to their installation. Perhaps someone reading this article might shed some light on this issue.
Chris RenoudMay 13, 2022
I have been visiting Fairhaven for 50 years, lived in Fairhaven for years, went to school at Larabee and Fairhaven and I pass through Fairhaven every day and have shopped, drank and eaten in Fairhaven all along. Since I first saw this change I have avoided Fairhaven, not because of the cost of parking but because of the hassle and greed of the city but in a large part, the loss of historic and friendly atmosphere that I cherrish and have loved over the years. I know the city council cares about the city and are great people but even good people can make poor decisions. Covid has provided the perfect cover for all kinds of changes the public doesn’t support, not to mention the temporary homeless shelter….... A great cause but a terrible location.
Jon HumphreyMay 14, 2022
I have been following this situation too. It took me weeks to get vague responses out of Johnston and he never fully answered my questions.
Here is an e-mail I received from him below about the meters. I put some notes in and put—jon along with them so you’ll know what my comments are.
“Attached are the last two invoices from T2 as they relate to the Cosmo pay stations. used in both Downtown and in Fairhaven
0. Eric previously admitted that the meters use a wireless LTE system to transmit data. For those who have read “EMF*D” by Dr. Mercola and are concerned with EMFs this is of obvious concern. The city has a city wide fiber-optic system that the meters could have been hooked up to, but they still refuse to let the citizens that paid for it use it in any meaningful way. (—jon)
(Total $7,654 per year—jon)
(Fees for meters $29,529 per year—jon)
We are not aware of which service provider is used by T2 for their communications nor are we privy to their ISP. (aka the COB contracted with a company that refuses to be transperant. It’s probably Verizon. The company “Pay By Phone” is actually owned by Volkswagen.—jon)
We access the city owned stations using the cloud based services from our internal internet services.
The service agreement provides for a standard numbe of transaction/payments and allows for operational changes and system updates.
The does utilized the Pay by Phone service. The use pays a $0.25 transaction fee to PaybyPhone for use their 3rd party payment app. PaybyPhone send the parking payments to the City. (aka the COB pays 25 cents per transaction to Volkswagen)”
So while I do agree that we need more mass transit, bicycles, walkling, etc. the two issues are unrealated and Johnston is just using them as a shield to justify this obvious COB cash grab.
The COB can suggest alternative transit, but has taken no real significant steps to improve it. Bus transit, for example is not really usable. With the introduction of electric buses I, and my family, try to use the bus as often as we can. However, I am still reasonably young and stay out past 10 pm somtimes. The last bus runs at 9:40pm for me. Tack a bus schedule where the buses run too infrequently on to that and the bus system is NOT a real solution. It should be, but it’s not.
The bicycle master plan, which could have been great, ended up largely being a joke because of incompetant management by the COB too. So that’s another solution that could have been great but the COB messed up.
A parking garage will be awful for the environment and unnecessary. The fact of the matter remains that “problems with parking in Fairhaven” were always a ruse by the COB. Even at high-traffic times, like trick-or-treating with my kids in Fairhaven, or around the holidays, I only had to park by the Larabee school twice and walk a couple of block. Most of the time, the parking in Fairhaven is more than adequate. On Tuesdays when I go to Avenue Bread the gravel lot is often at least 50% empty in the morning.
So let’s see this as what it is. A cash grab by a government that can’t figure out how to make money in any legit way. I’ve written extensively about how the city’s existing pubilicy owned fiber-optic network could be used to reduce trips, create next-generation jobs, and generally adddress virtually all of our social and economic concerns. But Johnston sits on that too, he even wrote a fake conduit ordinacne and put together a sham committee to protect big telecom. They could make tens of millions off of an existing system and improve our quality of life, but they’re just not smart enough to do it, or worse.
Thelma FollettMay 14, 2022
Excellent article Taimi! Decades ago, the City of Bellingham gave Ken Imus nothing but grief for his envisioned Fairhaven. Now they want to get in on the act. How inconsiderate the City is to foist these parking meters on Fairhaven businesses and their customers. And, as you say (and how well I know) we seniors can’t ride bikes into town (!) or even walk that far anymore. I find the parking meters in downtown Bellingham to be a complete irritant for the reasons you mention. Remember when that nice fellow who used to frequent the Horseshoe Cafe went around sticking quarters in meters which had expired to save the poor vehicle owner a ticket. Many of us recipients of his goodwill have been grateful and cheered. The City needs to display the same thoughtfulness. If we thought the City really cared about the well-being of each of its citizens it would be almost bigger than the psychological boost we get from our greenways.
George DysonMay 15, 2022
Part of the problem is over-reliance on consultants. If we (via COB) hire consultants who are in the business of selling technological solutions, they will sell us a technological solution, even if it creates more problems than it solves.
Christopher S HudsonMay 15, 2022
George nails it. We don’t want these damn things. These are our streets. We should just cover them up with cheap pillow cases every night until they finally go to sleep and don’t wake up!
Dick ConoboyMay 15, 2022
Just to be clear, the 25 cent fee is charged on each transaction by PayByPhone and not, as far as I have been able to determined, subtracted from the city’s parking charge.
Jon HumphreyMay 16, 2022
I just received a response to my public records request for documents on these meters. Here is the reference #B012291-050722.
George, your suggestion is interesting. I have received some information about enforcement too. It turns out that the COB screwed the traffic officers over on pay. I know, you’re all shocked… Hence, there are fewer of them out there.
So, hypothetically you could use a bad idea from “Fast Food Nation” and take a play from the fast food beef industry (FFBI). The FFBI was getting finder for unsanitary conditions, but instead of improving their methods, they simply put together a pot of money for the rare occasions that they would actually get inspected and fined.
In short, people could consider just NOT paying for parking and in the rare events that our overworked police force actually tickets them, pull from this fund. If everyone bands together, enforcement would be impossible and revenue would be almost non-existent. Of course, I would never suggest anyone do anything that’s against the law. We need to leave that up to our city officials who are refusing to let us use the publicly owned fiber optic network that we paid for. Even during a pandemic. Apparently, it’s ok for them to steal from us, but if we don’t want meters, we should shut up and pay, according to them.
Tip JohnsonMay 19, 2022
Gee. Thanks, Seth.
Tim SurrattMay 21, 2022
First, I see no reason for Fairhaven to be able to play by different rules that downtown Bellingham. Parking is a service provided by the city.
The larger issue which appears in different guises is the dirty of real planning done by the city of Bellingham. By real planning I mean considering what the true densities of traffic and parking are and then making real provisions in the infrastructure to support those projections.
Let’s also be clear that the parking situation in Fairhaven has been horrible for years and only gets worse. The change in paying to park does not change that fact. I am less and less likely to visit as time goes on. It is now almost worth the drive to Lynden to get to Village Books.
Amanda FlemingMay 24, 2022
This article, with its teeth gnashing and hair pulling about the Terrible Parking Meter Menace threatening the elitist Fairhaven, really strikes a nerve for me. There is a pretense of concern for the poor, seniors and struggling students. The reality is that people with limited incomes do not shop in Fairhaven to begin with. Prices in Fairhaven are ridiculously high and the shops do not sell necessities; they sell luxury items or overpriced junk. And students making minimum wage will have to park outside Fairhaven! Students are young and strong and able to walk a few blocks. And in these days when businesses are begging for workers, I doubt that any employee in Fairhaven is working for minimum wage. Then there is a bizarre swipe at Jeff Bezos, as if online shopping will be affected by parking meters in Fairhaven. In short, a number of old tired progressive polemics are employed in an attempt to defend the interests of the pretentious, high-priced merchants of Fairhaven.
In the 80’s, right around the time the Alaska Ferry began docking there, it dawned on people that Fairhaven would make a damned fine tourist trap. So the development started, and a bunch of “olded up” new buildings went up. Our population began to explode, and in the 90’s the apartment buildings and luxury condos began to go up. Everyone who wanted to a piece of the action caused this mess, not “poor planning.” Also, the Fairhaven district is one of the city’s designated “urban villages” which are designed to “develop a vibrant mix of residential and commercial uses” and to “encourage a safe and attractive pedestrian experience.” This means that everyone should not expect to drive there and park right in front of their destination.
The current-day Fairhaven is a reflection of our tourist industry and booming population, not our city’s history. Most of the shops are designed to appeal to tourists or to people with more money than sense. Why should Fairhaven and its high-priced merchants get special treatment, when parking meters have always existed in our always-struggling downtown? As she herself points out, Taimi has made a darned good living in Fairhaven for many, many years. Then she pitifully protests that she doesn’t want to “spend her social security” on parking meters? Ridiculous. And if the shops and restaurants are so unappealing that customers will be discouraged by parking meters, they must not have been so special in the first place.
Taimi GormanMay 26, 2022
Responding to Amanda Fleming,
I’m so sorry to hear my article struck a nerve. Perhaps it will help you if I address some of your comments:
Thank you, Taimi Dunn Gorman