VALPARAISO | Although she owns an ice cream parlor, Pat Berning wasn't at Thursday's meeting of the city's Board of Public Works and Safety to sweet talk the members.
Berning, owner of Pat's Ice Cream Parlor at Lincolnway and Morgan Boulevard, came to protest the three-hour limit for parking on the streets around her shop. She said she recently received another ticket for violating the restriction, although her car was not parked in the area for three hours.
In the process of running her business, Berning said she comes and goes, and, when she has stuff to load or unload from her car, she parks next to the shop. She makes sure she doesn't leave her car for more than three hours total. When not unloading or loading, she has an arrangement to use a lot at a nearby business.
She said the most recent ticket was issued after she parked on the street for a short time in the morning and returned in the afternoon to deliver items to the store. When she went to move the car, she already had a ticket although the car hadn't been there three hours.
She said a customer had a similar situation when she ordered a cake in the morning and came back in the afternoon to pick it up and got a ticket. Berning said she has talked to other business people with similar concerns either for themselves or for customers.
"The whole idea was to be business friendly," she said. "I know when to leave and when my three hours are up. I got a ticket because I didn't really understand it. It's very frustrating to me. The city is making a lot of money but people also are getting upset.
"I don't want this to be a ghost town. I want it to be a thriving community and where it is a friendly place and not where you can be punished for coming down and ordering a cake and coming back later and getting a ticket. Throw us a bone.
"The economy is picking up, but a lot of things can happen. The economy is a fragile thing. That $15 (for the ticket) I'd rather spend on shoes, which helps the economy. People don't understand why they are getting a ticket, and maybe they will stop shopping downtown."
Mayor John Costas said the parking zones were created to solve the problem of business owners and employees taking up parking spaces that could be used by customers. While it solved that problem, it created those mentioned by Berning.
City Administrator Bill Oeding said the clock on vehicles parking in the two-hour or three-hour zones downtown starts as soon as the parking enforcement officer records them. If the vehicle is still parked anywhere in the zone when the time limit is up, they get a ticket whether they left the area and came back or not.
"The system has worked well in moving workers to the fringe lots," Oeding said. "People can drive through the downtown and find a space within a block or two of where they want to go. There are other tools we could consider, but they would not be practical in the downtown.
"We get an occasional complaint, but, for the most part, people have adjusted to it," he said. "This is the second time Pat has come in. We sent a note to our parking consultant to offer any ideas. We take complaints seriously. We try to be friendly and easygoing about this."
Costas promised Berning the city will have an answer for her this week. After hearing the complaint, Board Member Chuck Williams, whose business is in the same block, said Berning's situation is different from that of other businesses in that area because she doesn't have an alley behind her store where she can park to load and unload things.
Williams then said he would pay the ticket.