What Will it Take to Close the City Hall Parking Lot?

New details on who parks there, and for how much longer.

Rush hour at the City Hall parking lot.

Rush hour at the City Hall parking lot.

Despite the headlines, despite a humiliating single-purpose Tumblr, despite the introduction of a City Council ordinance that (might) limit the practice, the Nutter administration continues to allow VIP parking on the north apron of City Hall, just next to the new $55 million Dilworth Park.

It’s bad policy for some pretty obvious reasons. 1) It looks terrible, particularly juxtaposed against the gleaming new Dilworth. 2) It’s not particularly safe to park cars on sidewalks. 3) It doesn’t mesh at all with the Nutter administration focus on urbanism and reducing vehicle use in Philadelphia. 4) It doesn’t send a great message when public officials claim public space for their own private vehicles.

But there are some signs that apron parking won’t last forever, and some new details on who, exactly, is parking on the sidewalk right now.

Citified filed a right to know request for the information late last year. The Nutter administration answered that request very promptly. It just took us a while to work through the records. Here’s what the records showed.

As previously reported, there’s an elite group of city officials with carte blanche to park on the apron pretty much anytime; 19 in all, plus the mayor’s security detail. Most of the names we’ve reported before, but not all. They include a mix of high-powered senior officials and mayor’s office personnel. Previously unreported council members with parking privileges are councilwomen Marian Tasco and Blondell Reynolds Brown. You can see the full list of authorized parkers below.

That list has grown because of construction activity at Dilworth Park, according to Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. He told Philly mag in an email last fall that “the Park has reduced perimeter street parking. Those with temporary apron parking will be reassigned to street parking when the parking lanes have been repainted and spaces are reconfigured.” There’s still no timeframe on the lane painting, McDonald said in an email today.

But the authorized parkers don’t account for all of the traffic on the City Hall apron. Many different kinds of drivers, from contractors, to bigwigs, to film crews, pastors, to City Council guests, seek approval to park on the apron on an ad hoc basis. Our right to know request, which covered the span of October 1 to November 17, yielded dozens of emails from such would-be apron parkers.

Many of the requests were eminently reasonable. City Hall is a huge facility, after all, and it doesn’t have a loading dock. Where else but the apron to park catering trucks? The furniture moving company. The crews filming the TV show Allegiance.

There were also, however, plenty of requests to provide VIP parking for honored guests (most of those requests came from City Council members) like Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, a group of Italian students visiting Philadelphia, a cohort of Army sergeants attending a conference, a good samaritan who helped to pull a cop out of a burning car.

Least explicable were the requests granted to city workers for seemingly routine business meetings. For instance, Maryanne Mahoney, the government affairs officer for the Philadelphia International Airport, made five requests to park on the apron in the six weeks covered by our right to know request. She was granted permission all but once. Mahoney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Indeed, out of roughly 50 requests, only a handful were rejected, and then largely because the apron was full-to-bursting with other vehicles, according to the email exchanges.

McDonald has said that the Nutter administration approves or rejects apron requests based on “a combination of factors related to the need and availability of space, e.g. a contractor doing HVAC repair needs to be here two days; a person with a physical disability is attending a meeting.” He has noted as well that the Nutter administration has reduced the overall size of the city’s vehicle fleet and take home cars, and made public parking available on 15th Street next to the Municipal Services Building (those spots had previously been reserved for official city use, as several of the blocks surrounding City Hall still are).

Back to the fate of apron parking.

At-large City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced an ordinance in December that would cut back on VIP apron parking by requiring the Public Property Commissioner to issue parking permits for “special purposes” and only for up to 30 days. The ordinance would require permit holders to be disclosed online. Kenney says he’ll schedule a hearing on the bill soon.

“It’s a beautiful building made more beautiful by the development of Dilworth Park. To feel you can’t walk an extra 30 or 40 feet from a reserved spot on the street to me just shows the arrogance that they keep trying to act like they don’t have,” Kenney said of the Nutter administration. “It’s all transparent and ethical and good government, but let me put my car where I want.”

McDonald had no comment on the proposed ordinance, but wrote, “if the bill gets a hearing, we will testify.”

The rub is that council may well not have the authority to usurp mayoral operational control over city facilities like City Hall, which Kenney acknowledges. “If they ignore it, they’ll be criticized for ignoring it. I can’t physically tow them. Or, actually, maybe I can get Lew Blum…”

That was a joke. Probably. 

But even if the ordinance lacks real force, parking on the apron could diminish once the lines are repainted, as McDonald says. And if not then, perhaps after planned improvements are made to the apron. There’s about $7.5 million in capital funding that’s been set aside for apron fixes, according to this Newsworks report.

McDonald said “he had nothing to announce at this time,” when asked about those planned fixes and how they might alter apron parking policy.

Authorized Parking on City Hall Apron – Redacted