Downtown takes parking into 21st century

By Taylor West

Downtown in the Classic City — comprised largely of curbside parking — is making it easier for people to get where they are going.

A move to make simpler by replacing the old coin meters with modernized digital IPS meters had been on the table since before Downtown Athens Parking Director Chuck Horton took the helm, but it really gained momentum last year.

“It wasn’t anything new I just brought it back up — it was just something that needed to be done,” Horton said. “The machines that were on the street were just way past their time.”

Now, finding an old school meter in downtown Athens is next to impossible, a reality that will streamline the parking process for anyone who ventures out to one of the many bars, shops or restaurants.

Athens, however, is not the first city to follow the trend of convenience through modernization with the IPS meters.

San Diego introduced 51 of the high-tech devices for a four-month trial in 2009, according to the San Diego government website. And according to the City of Berkeley website, North Berkeley, a neighborhood in Berkeley, Calif., ran a pilot program with 30 of the meters in January 2010.

These new solar-powered meters, which made their way through downtown over the last couple of months, take credit and debit cards as well as the traditional pocket change.  Now those who find themselves in the historic city center can use the new meters on most streets.

Even the pay and display boxes are on their way out. Horton said it is in the works for Clayton Street and Broad Street to follow the lead of the rest of downtown and replace the boxes with the new IPS meters.

Horton said the boxes are a real problem for downtown Athens parking — just the act of having to find a box, pay, get a ticket and return to your car generates complaints.

“A lot of the folks don’t like them. It is not uncommon to have five complaints in a morning based on what happened the night before,” he said. “I just don’t get those kinds of complaints from the IPS meters.”

John McArthur, a downtown Athens attorney who works across the street from the courthouse, said he likes the new meters better than the old ones and better than the pay and display boxes.

“[The pay and display’s] are OK. I kind of like [the IPS meters] better because you don’t have to go looking for the box and print the receipt,” he said.

Scott Cassady, a retired Athenian, shares McArthur’s distaste for the pay and display meters, saying they are “a pain in the butt.”

“Whatever happened to where you just walked up and stuck your coins in and walked away?” he said. “[The IPS meters] actually look like they make sense. It’s way better than the other one.”

And on top of being a grievance for those who frequent downtown, the pay and display boxes are difficult and costly to fix when they break. Horton said Athens doesn’t have the in-house tools to fix the machines so the city has to call in people from Norcross.

The IPS meters pose much less of a problem. Horton said they break less frequently and are easier to fix and to monitor.

“It will send a message to my email if they are jammed if they are having some problems,” Horton said. “For us its easy to trouble shoot them you can switch them out pretty easy.”

In addition to the ability to pay with credit and debit cards as well as the traditional coins, users can pay for the new machines by calling in on an app and paying on the phone.

“I can pull up on their software and check the amount of money that’s coming in,” Horton said.

A given meter’s income varies by location — the area by the courthouse doesn’t get as much business until court is in session or there is an event at the Classic Center. On the other hand, Horton said the meters on Lumpkin Street, Jackson Street and S. Washington Street “really get used.”

Athens-Clarke County purchased 510 IPS meters at $465 a piece — a total of just over $230,000 — that arrived in the middle of last October. Horton said of the vote in favor of the purchase, “I think it was unanimous.

And the opinion on the amendment to the downtown landscape met with positivity from Athens’ citizens, too.

“They are well received,” Horton said. “I like them and I think the customers like them because … they can read them and it’s easy to use them. Your generation is going to use plastic; the older generation may not want to do that.”

Barbara Brown, an employee of Downtown Athens Parking, has the job of writing tickets for the vehicles which are illegally parked — whether in an off-limits parking space or with an expired meter.  She said the dual nature of the meters makes them easy to use for Athenians of all ages and backgrounds.

“They are easier for the older people and easier for the students, you know, it’s old school and new school,” she said. “Credit cards, five cents, ten cents and quarters — you can still get by with it.”

McArthur said he supports the new, high-tech meters’ downtown takeover because they are convenient and good for the price. His only complaint — “I wish they would take dollar bills too.”


Proposed Legislation for Reducing Gun Restrictions–What it means for Athens

The trigger is pulled and the gun jerks back. The shell flies out. The bullet travels down the range almost too fast to be seen. The only evidence of the bullet’s presence, a Bang! The sound echoes off the cement walls and a single bullet hole appears straight through the target—an outline of a human profile.

Daniel Grass, a senior at the University of Georgia, shows off his target image. Ten bullet holes gape in the paper target—all through the head.

Grass is confident in his shooting ability and plans to purchase a gun when he has enough money. He said he would not feel any more or less safe carrying a gun with him on campus—but that is exactly what he would be able to do if the proposed legislation House Bill 512 were to pass through the senate.

House Bill 512, which passed through the Georgia House in a 117-56 vote this month, is currently being reviewed by the Senate. HB 512, also known as the Safe Carry Protection Act, amends current legislation to lift restrictions on where guns can be carried. If passed this bill would allow concealed weapons on college campuses—as well as in places of worship, bars and unsecured government buildings.

Athens House Representatives were split on their vote for HB 512. Democratic Representative Spencer Frye voted against the bill while Republican Representative Regina Quick voted in favor. As reflected by the conflicting views of the two representatives, the Athens community has a variety of opinions on HB 512.

HB 512 would affect public institutions differently than private ones. Places of worship and bars, because they are private property rights, would still be allowed to decide whether or not to allow weapons in their establishment. Public universities, however, are considered government institutions and would be required to permit guns on certain areas of their campus.

The University of Georgia being a public institution would be directly impact by the passing of the Safe Carry Protection Act.

University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson opposes HB 512, particularly legislation that would allow for guns to be carried on college campuses. “We like where the current law is,” said Williamson. “I have concerns [about HB512] from a safety standpoint.”

Williamson said that he believed the law would cause a number of issues and would make the job of police officers more difficult. He noted his concern about the influence guns would have on instances of intimidation or bullying on campus. Williamson said the presence of more guns in innocent people’s hands would complicate the job of police officers when in came to responding to active shooters. “It would be hard for the police responding to know who the good guy and who the bad guy is,” said Williamson.

On the other side of the issue Bobby Tribble an employee at Franklin Gun Shop in Athens, said

“If you are a law abiding person you can carry a gun anywhere you want to and as long as you don’t show off with it and do something illegal or unless you have to use the gun nobody is going to know you have it anyway.”

Tribble said he did not believe that passing or removing restrictions on where gun owners could carry weapons would change the number of people carrying concealed weapons in these areas. “Only law abiding people obey laws so passing more laws is not going to have any effect.”

The University Union hosted a debate on gun control open to students, faculty and athens locals. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owner Association and  Kathryn Grant of the non-profit organization Gun Free Kids, both presented their views on the issue guns on campus.

Grant, who is part of the Keep Guns Off Campus Resolutions, said in opposition to HB 512, “The assertion that arming students and teachers in keeping the campus community safe lies at the heart of this debate, but is a rationale seen by many as fundamentally flawed.” Grant further encouraged those making decisions on this bill to listen to experts on the issue that have said putting guns on campus will not make it a safer environment.

Feldman a prominent lobbyist for gun rights refuted Grant. Feldman said that in order to discuss the issue of gun control people must get away form the emotions in the issue.

“[If] I am carrying that gun legally, am I somehow, when I cross over onto school property, going to become a vicious killer? I think not,” said Feldman. The concern is not where guns can be carried. The important issue is who is carrying a gun.

Feldman said, removing gun restrictions would not change the number of dangerous people who could carry a gun on campus—rather it would increase the number of law-abiding citizens who would have a gun and ability to defend themselves.

But do students or faculty feel they would be safer if guns were allowed on campus? University Georgia System Chancellor Hank Huckaby does not think so.

“In my position I believe strongly that allowing our students to carry weapons on our campuses will not increase their personal safety but instead reduce it,” said Huckaby, in a statement before the Georgia legislative committee. Huckaby is supported by the 31 other University System of Georgia’s presidents in his opposition of HB 512.

Lucas Smith a freshman at the University of Georgia said he is against HB 512. “There are merits to both arguments, but I would personally want to see no guns on campus,” said Smith. While Smith said he supports the second amendment, he feels that he pays money to attend the University and should have a say in how safe he feels on campus.

Back at the shooting range, Grass fired over 17 rounds through his target practicing his precision and aim. “I agree with allowing guns in more places,” said Grass. “I think the biggest misconception about gun control is that, the more regulation you put on gun is going to keep them out of the wrong hands.”

Grass believes that current legislation restricting gun carrying on campus is not going to stop someone who wants to bring a gun on campus from doing so. By allowing guns on campus Grass said he did not feel the number of students carrying guns would drastically increase.

“There might be a small percent of student who carry [guns] and they are going to be the responsible ones who wouldn’t want to shot me anyways. The only thing that [allowing guns on campus] could do it maybe prevent a mass shooting or something,” said Grass.

While the Safe Carry Protection Act remains under review in the Georgia Senate, the Athens and University community can contact Athens’ State Senator Bill Cowsert to voice their opinion on House Bill 512.   


Athens moves forward with census

The 2010 Census is well underway in Athens and local officials, citizens, and students are helping to promote.

Census promoters take ideas from the national and regional offices.

John Lowery, the local census office manager, said the majority of publicity for the census is provided by the national office.

“They are primarily responsible for promoting the census,” Lowery said. “They have the advertising budget. We don’t.”

The Athens branch of the Local Census Office, which covers 14 counties, uses Field Operations Staff and enumerators to go into the community and build awareness about the census. Enumerators travel door-to-door during the census to gather addresses of community members.

The staff has contacted on-campus housing supervisors as well as off-campus housing facilities to assist students with the questionnaire. They also pass out fliers.

The office began preparing for the census last spring. Enumerators gathered U.S. Postal Service approved addresses from the community to build a database.

The office also has Partnership Specialists whose primary responsibility is to promote the census by having conversations with local community members.

The local government also plays a major role. The Athens-Clarke County Planning Department announced on its website that, “Mayor Heidi Davison [has] appointed the Complete County Committee (CCC)” for the region. The program consists of government leaders and community members willing to build awareness of the census.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, the CCC members can do the following:  

· Organize a team of local people who can provide the cultural and community insights   

  necessary to build 2010 Census awareness efforts.

· Promote the value of accurate and complete census data.

· Have a positive impact on the questionnaire response rate.

The Athens-Clarke County division includes members from the Department of Family and Children Services, the Council on Aging, the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, the Clarke County School Board and other organizations.

CCC programs play a major role in making sure every person in a specific community is counted.

Julie Morgan, special projects coordinator planner II at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, said that Athens uses the CCC to do most of its promotion concerning the census.

“The Complete Count Committee consists of community leaders who have contact with harder to count populations,” Morgan said. “Students are difficult to count. So are the homeless and Hispanic populations.”

The committee also holds various programs in different schools around the city.

“The Clarke-County school district applied for grants and received a lot of money to build census awareness,” Morgan said.

She adds that the shirts help bring information home to parents. They made about 7,000 shirts for students.

She also said that the CCC “steals ideas all the time from the national website.” The committee is beneficial because each member of the committee knows the questions and concerns of his or her group and can make the most productive efforts based on that knowledge.

At the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, some faculty and staff at the Applied Demography Program are filling “the information gap between data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and what local governments collect on their own.” The group collects population data beneficial to local and state governments in planning their budgets.

Students can also participate in the action. The U.S. Census Bureau Web site provides information for students and graduates to apply for jobs.

Emily Brown, 20, a sophomore political science major from Cumming said the census form wasn’t that hard to fill out. She said the census is helpful because “it gives the city money and Athens really needs it.”

As far as awareness is concerned, Brown has seen some of it.

“I saw someone in Tate,” Brown said. “And I got a couple extra mailings. I’ve also seen stuff about it on the news.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, the estimated population of Clarke County in 2008 was 114,737. This is a 13.1 percent increase from the estimated 101,487 people living in the county in April 2000. The 2000 census data shows that Clarke County was the 14th most populous county in the state. The estimated population of Athens in 2006 was 111,580. This is an 11.3 percent increase from the 2000 estimate of 100,266. University of Georgia students make up a good portion of the population with 32,938 people in the fall of 2007.

The constitutionally required U.S. Census takes place every 10 years. The goal is to count every person living in the United States “to help determine the number of seats your state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

But this is not the only reason the census takes place.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, “the census will help communities receive $400 billion dollars in federal funds each year for things like: hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, bridges, tunnels and other public-works projects, and emergency services.”

The website also states that not completing the census can have negative effects on a community.  Not only will it affect the amount of federal dollars the community receives, but the census is also “one of the most powerful ways of having a voice in the United States.”

The 2010 Census questionnaire will be mailed to every address. It is the shortest census questionnaire since the first one in 1790. Citizens must only fill out their name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and if people living in the house own or rent their homes. The census questionnaire is only available in print form. The bureau is required under federal law to protect the confidentiality of all personal date it receives.

For more information, please visit the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, http://2010.census.gov, or call the local census bureau office at 706-534-5910.