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Pump House Parking Rebuttal

In a recent column published in the Victoria Advocate, City Councilman Paul Polasek praised the efforts of the owners of the Pump House Restaurant for their vision in transforming an otherwise worthless property into a great dining destination, so I'm told. For that, I couldn't agree more. I applaud those who'd risk their personal wealth and hard work in pursuit of profits. However, Mr. Polasek and I part ways on the details of the public parking arrangements made through the City, and I made this clear in a couple blogs back in 2010 — here & here. Be sure to view the "unverified comments" on those blogs.

Please allow me to address some of Mr. Polasek's statements....

Polasek: "Council member Tom Halepaska had an interesting idea: offer the property for sale to the public. He believed someone may be willing to invest enough into the location to make it a very unique site for a restaurant or some other type venue. The city began the process to solicit bids. Several people inquired about the property and one bid was received from Dennis Patillo and Louise Hull Patillo."

Ever the visionary, Halepaska had his finger on the pulse of this transaction from beginning to end. He spawned the idea to sale the property AND quarterbacked the parking arrangement. (I hate political coincidences.) Kudos to Tom.

Polasek: "The new owners had significant hurdles to overcome to transform a 110-year-old water plant into a modern restaurant meeting all city codes. One of the early issues was ensuring adequate parking. Since the property is surrounded by park property, there was no option for the new owners to purchase additional adjoining property. Park land cannot be sold without a voter referendum."

This is where the plot begins to thicken. If the owners had plans to convert the pump house into a restaurant and developed some semblance of a business model before purchasing the property, did they not recognize these parking constraints? If they did, what would motivate them to continue the purchase? Considering that one of the co-owners was a sitting member of the City Planning Commission, I suspect these constraints were well within view. (This blog addresses their "need" for parking on public land.) If the constraints were overlooked, did the City effectively bail them out of a misguided purchase? The eternal question: whose foreknowledge of what and when?

Polasek: "The planning department was able to work out a very successful resolution, after discussions with the zoo management; kayakers and other park users, a new parking lot for all would be built and owned by the city, if the pump house owners would be willing to pay for the majority of the cost of the lot. They would be allowed to count the new spaces to meet the parking requirements for the city. The city was able to get additional parking for the public while being pro-business. The new owners paid the city $48,527 for their share of the parking (about 70 percent of the total cost)."

This is a half-truth wrapped in a smoke screen. This only accounts for the parking that satisfies the business' legal parking requirements, not the 40 additional parking spots built adjacent to the property completely on the taxpayers' dime. The 40 spots were approved to supposedly serve the zoo and disc golf course, which are roughly 1/8 & 1/4 mile away, respectively. These are obviously intended to serve the restaurant. If the parking the owners partially funded satisfied their requirements, why was the additional parking built? A second phase of 40 additional parking spaces was approved ("FUTURE PARKING (BY OTHERS)" on the site plan), which are also conspicuously near the restaurant.
Here's the plan that passed the Council by a 4-3 vote on December 7, 2010:
"Alternative Proposal: 107 spaces near Pumphouse Restaurant plus 40 spaces adjacent to the Zoo at an estimated cost of $156,744. Developer pays for 13 spaces on private property (estimated cost of $15,000) plus $48,527 for the additional 54 spaces on park property (67 total spaces). City pays for the remaining 40 spaces near the Pumphouse plus the additional 40 spaces near Zoo at an estimated cost of $108,217. Mr. Short advised that City staff would do the labor for this project and a contractor would do the overlay." During discussion of the issue, even Councilman Soliz had this pegged:
"Cm. Soliz commented that when the property was purchased he was under the assumption that the property owners had to create their own parking lot. He expressed concern with the developer purchasing the property and then coming back to the City to foot the bill on public property with public money. He felt that information should have been disclosed at the time of purchase." Just so there's no confusion, the "OTHERS" denoted in "PARKING (BY OTHERS)" in the site plan refers to YOU.

(click on image to zoom)

Polasek: "The most recent assessed value on the tax roles is now $755,000 generating at least $5,000 a year in revenue for the city alone. (This does not include county and school taxes.) Nor does it include sales tax revenues, which are substantial."

Nor does it include taxes on the legally-required off-street parking other businesses are required to have. Nor does anyone mention who'll cover maintenance costs in perpetuity from normal wear and flood damage.

Folks, the apparent cronyism employed to allow a private business to avoid its off-street parking obligations is what's at issue here. We must be able to examine this separately from the appeal of the restaurant, but I anticipate emotional "against the war = against the troops" arguments to prevail. In cronyism, the ends always justify the arbitrary means, and anyone who's been paying attention has discerned the arbitrary rule of our City Council. I've never met the Patillos, nor do I have anything against them. I'm simply uncomfortable with what appears to be the use of governmental connections to mitigate liabilities.

I consider this blog a public service to anyone who cares about transparency and accountability in government, and I hope it spawns a constructive discussion that can improve government discourse.