There's been so much back-and-forth between the city of Boise and Ada County Highway District over Downtown parking sensors, that it's easy to lose sight of what this argument is all about.
It happens to me all the time, and this is my job. So the following is the down-and-dirty of the issue, as I see it. (Read this story for more detail and background.)
Here's where the sides stand as of right now:
ACHD wants the city to sign a license agreement that would allow vehicle-detection sensors in metered parking spaces on Downtown streets, which the highway district controls.
It's important to remember, as a fellow Idaho journalist pointed out to me recently, that ACHD isn't a monolith. It's controlled by five commissioners whose opinions an many things — Mayor David Bieter, bike lanes, walkability, etc. — are divergent. By comparison, Boise's governing body appears much more united in its feelings about its disputes with ACHD.
Boise doesn't want to sign the license agreement. Instead, it wants a permit to install vehicle-detection sensors in virtually all of its metered parking spaces Downtown. Refer to the story link above for more details on the technology.
So what's the difference between a license and a permit? This is something I've wrestled with myself. The technical difference is that ACHD's board has to approve a license agreement. Staff members approve permits, usually with very little fanfare.
In fact, if Boise had applied for a permit last year before it started installing sensors, this might never have been an issue. Instead, a political skirmish broke out when Boise's contractor got caught cutting into the pavement. Both sides seem to dig in their heels deeper with each phase of negotiation.
If you're thinking this looks more like a clash of personalities than an honest-to-God argument over merits, you're not alone.
On a practical level, Boise believes the license agreement, as offered by ACHD, would give the highway district authority over parking policy, such as how many sensors Boise can install. State law gives cities, not highway districts, that authority.
ACHD commissioners say they want to fold in-street parking sensors into an existing master agreement that gives the city responsibility for overseeing things like sidewalk cafes. Commission Chairman John Franden told me another reason is that the district doesn't want to be on the hook in case something goes wrong with the sensors and causes damage to the streets or injury. He said the license agreement protects the district in those circumstances, but a permit wouldn't.
The city simply disagrees with that. They say language in the permit would include those protections. Last week, Boise offered an MOU that ensured "the city, at its sole cost and expense, will install, operate, maintain, and repair all of the sensors."
Long story short, the city has appealed the district's denial of permit applications for more than 800 parking sensors. It seems unlikely Bruce Wong, the district's director, will overturn that denial based on Boise's appeal. Then — it appears — the next step will be for the city to appeal Wong's decision to the highway district's board of commissioners.
Then, it all depends on the makeup of that board. Recently, commissioners Rebecca Arnold, Sara Baker and Mitchell Jaurena have been less receptive to Boise than Franden and Commissioner Jim Hansen.
Both sides say they don't want to end up in court over this issue. Law suits are always expensive, and judges just don't like inter-government cases. But if both sides continue at loggerheads, the courtroom seems unavoidable.