Parking Wars: The Nightmare on Galena Street | AspenTimes.com

Parking Wars: The Nightmare on Galena Street

John Colson

I can see it all now, as if it were a movie.

Wait ” it is a movie, and I’m the one showing it. I’m on the lecture circuit, a former journalist from a burned-out town, hired to explain to government workers around the country why they should never, ever think of passing laws that hamper peoples rights to drive where and when they want, and park where and when they want.

The vast theater hall is dark, ignoring the screams emanating from the towering screen, as the adult viewers sit with their popcorn and their sodas, eyes glued to the action above them.

On the screen is the final meeting of the Aspen City Council, captured fortuitously on a cell-phone video camera by a tourist from Dubuque, Iowa. He thought he was calling his wife to tell her he’d be a little late to meet her for dinner, but tripped the video function instead just as the bloodshed started.

Somehow, as mayhem erupted all around him, he managed to keep his butt in his chair and his finger on the “Record” button long enough to make the 2010 equivalent of that 1963 classic example of cinema verite, the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination.

The meeting was the final hearing about Parking Czar Tim Ware’s proposal to make unpermitted parking in Aspen’s residential neighborhoods a class 3 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of $500,000, or both.

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Pressure from second-home owners in the neighborhoods ” by now completely converted to huge luxury homes dominating every block, devoid of local workers other than servants ” had been rising for months.

Ever since the city expanded paid parking into the neighborhoods back in 2008, as a way of forcing commuting workers to take the bus or car-pool, wealthy property owners had showered the city with complaints. The growing army of parking wardens weren’t getting the job done, and were making exceptions for too many of their friends, who continued to drive their personal cars to town and park them on back streets, far from the commercial core. Not enough tickets were being issued, cars were not being towed, and the homeowners weren’t able to park their exotics and muscle cars right in front of their doors when they came for their two weeks of residency each year.

Ware tried to make things right, realizing there was a revolution under way in his own department, as sympathy for the oppressed commuters spread like a cancer among his troops. He started by firing scores of parking wardens, singling out native Aspenites and anyone known to have friends who lived downvalley, and hiring out-of-work prison guards and paroled Hells Angels to replace them. He also jacked up the fines for parking scofflaws, but that only worked for a while before the same evil influenza of disrespect for the law began infecting the new troops.

Finally he hit upon the solution, and recommended that the City Council roboticize the parking department, and put parking violations on the felony crime list.

At the final hearing, dozens of citizens had railed against the proposals, whining about the loss of soul and human compassion in the department, and warning that the consequences of such legislation could be dire.

But the City Council, swayed perhaps by the appearance of a phalanx of attorneys in dark suits carrying satchels of cash at the back of the council chambers, were not moved by the cries of foul play and voted to adopt Ware’s program.

Immediately, the room burst into a melee of screeching construction workers, cooks, lawn-care technicians and low-level office workers, among others, who lunged toward the council table with blood in their eyes.

A cry went up from somewhere “”Get some rope!” ” and it seemed as though a lynching party was forming in one corner, when the newly outfitted Aspen Police Department came crashing into the room wearing full riot gear and firing live ammunition into the seething crowd of angry commuters.

The Iowa second-home owner’s phone ran out of power as the cops and the crowd slammed into each other in what promised to be a full-on brawl, and the film then cuts to a professionally shot segment by a Denver TV news crew that hustled up into the mountains the next day to shoot the aftermath of the destruction ” City Hall, along with several nearby buildings, in smoking ruins, National Guard troops on every street corner, and rumors that the council had gone into hiding.

As the lights come up, I begin my talk, aware that even the necking youngsters in the back rows were paying attention now.

Violence has a way of focusing the mind in a marvelous way.