WEST LINN, Ore. (KOIN) – An 18-year-old high school senior is suing the City of West Linn over parking restrictions on public roadways.
Rory Bialostosky filed the 22-page lawsuit in Clackamas County Circuit Court on January 5, 2018 to challenge the city over recent actions that further restrict parking around the high school.
“This shortage is being caused by the city ordinance,” Rory Bialostosky, West Linn High School senior.
With only two lots on campus, student parking at West Linn High School is limited. Parking permit stickers must be purchased through the high school during the summer. The price for a permit to park on campus during the 2017-2018 school year was $40. For this school year, 277 student parking permits were sold.
Two parking spots, which sit about 200-feet from the school’s front door, are donated by the school to the West Linn High School Graduation Party Committee and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Bialostosky said the two spots raised several thousands of dollars each. The district did not provide specifics as to how much money was collected.
Historically, seniors have been guaranteed parking spots. Juniors who wanted to park on campus would be entered into a lottery. However, over the years, as the district’s population has increased, the demand for parking has become so much that seniors are no longer guaranteed a spot. Everyone who doesn’t have a reserved spot must then park on city streets. Sophomores have been banned from parking on campus.
“It gets worse as the year goes on because the sophomores turn 16 and they start to drive,” Bialostosky said.
The City of West Linn created a residential parking district around the high school in 1995 when the neighborhoods around the school started seeing trespassing, increase in littering and drug use. Since then, there have been a total of five separate ordinances passed that dealt with high school parking rules. Under current city rules, only residents with permits, living within the parking district, are allowed to park on public streets between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. when school is in session. Parking on the streets by non-residents, such as students, is prohibited.
“Kids are getting up at 6 a.m., 6:30, just to get to school to park and the school starts at 8:30,” Bialostosky said.
Some people living within the parking district have started renting out spaces to high school students – a move that doesn’t sit well with the mayor. The neighbors will rent out their driveway and allow students to park on private property. Because those homeowners have been given a permit, they will then park their personal vehicles on the street.
“In essence, they’re renting public property and that’s got to stop,” Mayor Russ Alexrod said during a September 11, 2017 city council meeting.
“That’s not something that’s really acceptable,” West Linn Mayor Russ Alexrod said.
West Linn Police Capt. Neil Hennely said at the meeting that police were aware that some families were renting out their driveway.
“I don’t know if there’s an absolute violation of law if they (the homeowner) parks their car on the street, which they are legally able to do, and then let someone else use their driveway,” Hennley said. “I don’t know what the current rate is for driveway parking is at the high school.”
The mayor asked for a review and wanted to know which families were renting out driveway space. He also indicated that he may push for a rule change that would prevent permit holders from renting out their driveway.
The parking district includes Amy Street, Broadway Street, Buse Street, Easy Street, First Court Street, K Street, King Street, Lewthwaite Street, Terrace Drive, parts of West A Street, Webb Street and Willson Street.
The lawsuit that Bialostosky filed focuses on Easy Street.
“Many of the streets can accommodate student parking because they are empty but yet they are roped off from us,” Bialostosky told KOIN 6 News.
In 2017, Bialostosky started rising what he described as “legal and ethical concerns” about the parking restrictions around the high school to the city council. On May 11, 2017, Bialostosky asked the city council to perform a review of the parking district to look into the possibility of repealing or rezoning some of the district to “open up the streets” in certain areas that could “accommodate student parking.”
By Bialostosky’s account, the decision to ask the city to repeal some of the parking restrictions backfired. He says the city ultimately put in more restrictions. He discovered that some of the no parking signs on Easy Street were placed in error and stood in error for the past 22 years. When Bialostosky alerted the city in June 2017, public works then removed the signs.
Bialostosky is also challenging the city’s decision to put the signs back up – without a vote – and without an ordinance on paper. The city then covered up the signs as they tried to sort everything out in terms of what to do with Easy Street.
At a June 26, 2017 city council work session the parking situation at the high school was described as a “crisis” by Bialostosky.
Bialostosky said he was wrongfully cited for illegally parking on Easy Street in 2017 when there was no city ordinance to support the no parking signs and any enforcement action.
Bialostosky also found that some of the no-parking signs in the parking district around the high school had conflicting information. Some signs read no parking from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. while others read no parking from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The city acknowledged the langue discrepancy and had the signs replaced.
The city attempted to correct the “discrepancies” in the parking district, including those on Easy Street, by coming up with Resolution 2017-20. Its official title is “Extending the Residential Parking Zone for the City Streets Around and Near West Linn High School.”
“Gosh, even the title of that is controversial, isn’t it,” Mayor Axelrod said during a city council meeting on September 11, 2017 that was later reviewed by KOIN 6 News.
City Manager Eileen Stein told the city council that Resolution 2017-20 was designed to “clean up” and “consolidate” all of the parking district maps that had been created in the past and put them into one map.
The city council unanimously passed Resolution 2017-20. In the process, Council President Brenda Perry admitted that no parking rules for high school students on certain parts of Easy Street were expanded because there had been no formal ordinance passed by prior councils to include areas of Easy Street within the parking district. When the council passed Resolution 2017-20, the ambiguous zones of Easy Street became part of the no-parking district.
“It concerns me that a student comes to us with a request for an assist with parking and we leap on restricting it even further, which troubles me a lot,” Perry said during the September 11, 2017 council meeting. “I understand that we need to sort out this (parking zone) area but we need not lose sight of his request either.”
Perry at the September 11, 2017 board meeting expressed her concerns with the city’s decision to put the no parking signs back up on Easy Street without an ordinance. She described the city as being on a “slippery slope” when it takes action on something and then later votes.
“I’m just very concerned about the process that we’re going through on this,” West Linn Council President Brenda Perry told the council.
The city council’s discussions with the parking issues around the high schools have been long and at times contentious.
At a meeting held on Jan. 2, 2018, Mayor Axelrod expressed his frustration with the council. Axelrod was requesting council approval to let city staff collect data to see how many parking spots would become available if the city chose to change some of its rules within the parking district and how many parking spots would become available if ODOT allowed people to park on the West A Street Bridge and Broadway Street Bridge. Both go over Interstate 205.
“Let’s remind ourselves, too, that it’s our city ordinance that is cutting off all the parking. That’s creating part of this problem,” Axelrod said.
Axelrod, Stein and the school district had limited discussions with about the parking issue.
“They talked about their frustration about having adequate buses for moving kids but no one wants to ride the buses,” Axelrod said during a city council meeting held on September 11, 2017.
Axelrod told the council it was “a huge problem” that kids weren’t riding the bus, instead choosing to drive to the high school.
“People want to jump in their cars,” Axelrod said. “There’s a lot of money in the community. Kids have access to cars. The first inclination is to jump into your car and drive to high school.”
According to the mayor, very few people choose to bike or walk to school because of the city’s hill terrain. The city is extremely limited public transportation options, according to Perry. TriMet provides only two bus lines through the city and it travels on Ostman Road, Blankenship Road, 10th Street, Willamette Falls Drive and Willamette Drive.
“Even TriMet doesn’t want to run buses through most of West Linn and that’s been their big hold up [for route expansion] is going from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill,” Perry told KOIN 6 News.
Council president Perry wants the school district to become more involved in discussions and solutions.
“It’s very important and that’s something I’ve been pushing,” Perry said.
Perry believes students are choosing to drive to school because of extra circular activities that happen outside normal school bus schedules.
According to current district records, there are 18 school bus routes for morning pick up and afternoon drop off. The earliest pick up is Route # 16 at 7:39 a.m. which picks up at Stafford Primary School. Afternoon Route #31 makes the last pick up for drop off at 4:03 p.m. in the 27400 block of Southwest 95th Avenue.
“It’s up to the school if they want to build a parking garage,” Axelrod said during a Jan. 9, 2018 city council meeting.
There is no current activity bus for West Linn High School students, a spokesperson for the district confirmed.
“There used to be an afternoon activity bus in prior years, but it dissipated due to lack of use and student interest,” Andrew Kilstrom, Director of Communications, said in an email.
The city had planned to meet with the school district on Jan. 22, 2018 but the meeting has already been canceled. No future meeting dates have been set.
“We were discussing this last summer and it’s now January and it’s going to be February before we meet with the school board and we get anything moving,” Perry said to her fellow council members on Jan. 9.
According to Bialostosky’s lawsuit, the city only keeps parking citation records for three years, and the no parking signs that were not legally enforceable along certain parts of Easy Street had been up for 22 years.
“Restitution is impossible for the victims of these incidents,” the lawsuit states.
The issue of ticketing was discussed extensively during the August 7, 2017 city council meeting.
Council President Perry asked City Attorney Timothy V. Ramis if he was okay with allowing the city to put up signs on Easy Street when there was no ordinance to support the signs’ objectives.
“It’s a close call, but the real problem might be, I think, is issuing tickets,” Ramis said.
Councilor Richard Sakelik followed up and asked Ramis if the city had an obligation to find all the tickets that have been given in that area over the last 22 years.
“I might want to discuss that in an executive session at some point,” Ramis replied.
Ramis said during the Aug. 7, 2017 meeting that his biggest concern was not with the error in signage but any enforcement action that was taken without legal backing from a city resolution.
In an e-mail to KOIN 6 News, Axelrod said the city council has not been informed of how many tickets may have been issued without the proper legal backing. KOIN 6 News submitted a public records request with the city and was later informed that the city only maintains parking citation records for a 3 year period.
“If this matter were to be looked at in the future, the council would rely on data to be provided from the police department as well as any recommendation of our police department,” Axelrod wrote.
City code requires West Linn High School to provide a certain number of parking spots as part of their conditional land use permit. The formula is based on the school’s football stadium seating capacity, which does not change unless re-built. Currently, the city only requires the school to have one parking space for every four seats.
Council president Perry said she was surprised to hear that the school isn’t required to provide parking based on school population.
“When you build a school, you build that stadium and that stays the way it is but the population changes and it is it increasing,” Perry said. “We know that there are very large freshman and sophomore classes, so the problem is not going to get any easier but the stadium will stay the same.”
The lawsuit Bialostosky has filed is seeking a declaratory judgement.
A declaratory judgement case will typically request a judge to sort through potentially murky legal matters and determine the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) rights when something is in dispute.
In the case involving Bialostosky and the City of West Linn, Bialostosky is asking a judge to make four rulings:
– A declaration that Resolution 2017-20 is invalid;
– A declaration that the process used by the West Linn City Council to install permit parking only signs on certain residential streets without a vote was illegal;
– A declaration that the process used by the City Council to incorporate more streets into the residential parking zone as map corrections, by way of Resolution 2017-20 was, and is, invalid.
According to the West Linn High School student handbook, fees for illegally parking on campus can range from $15 to having a vehicle towed.
First violation – $15 fine
Second violation – $30 fine, parents notified
Third violation – $30 fine, parents notified, community service ordered
Fourth violation – $30 fine, parent notified, community service ordered, loss of lottery privileges for the next year
Additional violations – Vehicle towed
KOIN 6 News requested an interview with Mayor Axelrod for this story but he denied our request. In an e-mail dated Jan. 10, Axelrod said, “I really have nothing to say about the parking issue other that the city is simply in the process of collecting background information about all potential options to possibly help the community address the parking issue around the school.”
The West Linn-Wilsonville School District also declined a request for an on camera interview. The district, through its spokesperson, Andrew Kilstrom, answered pre-submitted questions pertaining to some of the issues raised during this story.
“The District asks that students follow traffic laws and encourages students to use busing services or carpooling when possible,” Kilstrom said in a statement. “We realize many students like the flexibility that comes with driving to school, especially for those who enjoy getting to school early or leaving late, but ask that they are respectful and mindful of surrounding neighbors.”
Kilstrom said part of the reasoning behind the city’s parking district is to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation, such as biking and busing.
The City of West Linn has 30 days from Jan. 11 to file a response to the lawsuit.