New ordinance targets street parking near Manatee County schools
In the name of safety for drivers and convenience for law enforcement, the Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a new ordinance that blocks drivers from parking on the right-of-way near schools between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. on school days.
County staff said the change, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, comes with numerous benefits. For one, many parking signs near schools list specific time slots when the no parking rule is enforced. The issue, however, is that school hours tend to change on an annual basis, making those signs ineffective and inaccurate when school hours change.
“School schedules change every year — you all know this,” said Aaron Burkett, traffic operations division manager. “This creates a challenge for sheriff’s deputies to enforce these existing ordinances.”
Burkett said his staff began a countywide search for existing ordinances — some more than a decade old — that were no longer accurate due to changes in school schedules. The new blanket ordinance is meant to proactively account for future changes in school hours.
Following the presentation, Commissioner Carol Whitmore immediately disagreed with the proposal and asked why the restriction couldn’t be limited to school hours. Burkett said an ambiguous sign like that one would assume that drivers know what the current school hours are, which isn’t always the case.
“We’ve got some of the most complex school schedules around,” Burkett said. “I know this from experience because we schedule school flashers. They also have holi- days and half days as well so once you start putting times on there, even if you put ‘during school hours,’ that can be vague and hard to enforce.”
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker noted that an ordinance that only goes by “school hours” would put the onus not only on parents and drivers to be aware of school schedules but on deputies who patrol the entire county. Whitmore’s mind remained unchanged and she cast the dissenting vote.
Limiting the parking restriction to certain times would be a good idea, County Attorney Mitchell Palmer suggested. He explaining that a school’s hours might technically be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but the busiest time of the day in terms of parking could easily be around 3:30 p.m. when parents pick their children up, which would fall out of the cited range.
In her first public meeting as a county commissioner, Misty Servia raised concern based on her own
experience with parking at Manatee County schools.
“I would like to see some communication with the school board to work collectively together because as a parent who has to pick up their child for a doctor appointment and can’t physically get on the school property to go and pick up my child, there’s no other resort than to park on the street,” Servia said.
The board agreed to hold off on enacting law until the beginning of
2019 to allow for more time to get the word out to drivers and possibly change the terms of the ordinance for situations similar to the one Servia mentioned.
According to county staff, the proposal is meant to “encourage drivers to use the desig- nated pickup/drop off area on school property.” Sage Kamiya, deputy director of traffic management, said the Manatee County School Board requested the change and was kept abreast of the proposal as it went through various revisions. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office also provided input.
But Commissioner Vanessa Baugh advised her fellow board members to realize that safety was among the main drivers of the proposal.
“These cars are parking on public streets and not coming out for a long time, for whatever reason. They’re going in there to help out in a class that day or have lunch or whatever the case may be,” Baugh said. “These cars are, a lot of the time, parking on a curve, which is the problem the sheriff’s office has had. The cars will park on the curve and it makes it hard for the cars that are trying to get around the cars that are parked because they can’t see.”
Baugh’s argument resonated with Commissioner Betsy Benac, who said she has experienced those traffic issues herself.
“Quite frankly, what happens around Manatee High is dangerous. I’ve tried to drive through there during school hours and there are people driving like crazy maniacs trying to get around. We need to block this,” Benac said. “This is a safety issue. This is a public safety issue. If we don’t stop this from happening, the onus has to be on the school board to provide parents with a place to park.”
Assistant County Attorney Katharine Zamboni noted that the ordinance isn’t “intended to be a gotcha to generate revenue” for the sheriff’s office. Leeway will be given to those loading or unloading passengers, she said.
“Personally, we have a lot of trouble in my district with the main roads and traffic getting clogged up, so if the sheriff, the school board and our people think this is what they need, I’m going to support them on it,” said Commissioner Priscilla Trace.
THIS IS A SAFETY ISSUE. THIS IS A PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUE.
Commissioner Betsy Benac
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a new ordinance that blocks drivers from parking on the right-of-way near schools between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. on school days. Signs show no parking on the street just south of Manatee High.