Buffalo on Friday announced it has reached an agreement with the powerful Civil Service Employees Association that city officials believe will pave the way for a residential parking plan in the Fruit Belt.
With the CSEA backing the plan, and other unions agreeing not to oppose it, Buffalo’s city and state officials believe the necessary enabling legislation will be approved by the State Legislature before its session ends in mid-June, and then be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Once approved, it’s expected to take another 45 days or so for the city to work out details and implement a residential parking permit system, according to city Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer.
The permit parking area would be bordered by East North Street, Michigan Avenue, Rose Street and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Within that area, half the parking on any street will be designated for residents, and the other half will be for the general public, which incudes Medical Campus employees.
All parking in the designated area, including the permit parking, will remain free.
The actual implementation of the program and issues such as visitor passes for residents have yet to be worked out.
The program will be a two-year pilot.
The agreement was lauded during a press conference held at the Moot Center, located in the Fruit Belt.
Politicians, including Mayor Byron W. Brown and Council President Darius G. Pridgen joined Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy to thank residents and union representatives as well as each other for the work everyone has done to get the agreement.
Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat, is again introducing enabling legislation into the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which is almost assured to pass. Kennedy, also a Democrat, introduced similar legislation into the Republican-led Senate, where passage is less certain. But Kennedy says he’s hopeful the union support will ensure passage in the Senate.
Last year, similar legislation passed the Assembly but was stalled in the Senate because of opposition from the CSEA. The union objected because the city’s plan would have created a permit parking program that precluded Medical campus employees from parking in the Fruit Belt.
Fruit Belt residents have been requesting a resident permit parking system because so many Medical Campus employees park on their streets, that the residents can’t find a place to park when they come home from work or from shopping.
But CSEA argued that their lower-wage employees cannot afford to park in the pay-to-park lots and garages on the Medical Campus. The union last year convinced the State Senate not to approve the enabling legislation needed for Buffalo to enact a permit parking program.
Pridgen then promised to bring the unions into the conversation, and make another attempt at getting the enabling legislation passed.
The process wasn’t completely smooth.
The unions, working with residents and the elected officials, initially agreed to a system where half the Fruit Belt parking would be set aside for Medical Campus employees earning $35,000 or less annually.
But CSEA officials in Albany objected, according to several people involved in the talks.
Two other unions who had been involved, Communication Workers of America and 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers were then left out of the remaining talks while the CSEA continued meeting with some neighborhood leaders and elected officials to hammer out the agreement now being planned – with half the parking going to residents and the other half to the general public, including Medical Campus employees.
SEIU and CWA union representatives who attended Friday’s press conference said they don’t like the new agreement because it permits highly paid doctors, for example, to park for free in the Fruit Belt.
Cori Gambini, the local CWA 68 president, and Jim Scordato, local vice president of 1199SEIU, said they will not be signing the agreement. However, both also said their unions will not oppose the enabling legislation in Albany.
“We fully support the community,” Scordato said of the Fruit Belt.
Since the agreement is a two-year pilot, the union leaders said they hope to remain involved in future talks.
CSEA Western Region President Florence Tripi was not available to comment Friday on the CWA and SEIU objections, but Saturday responded that she was surprised to hear of their concerns.
The Albany CSEA office, she said, was involved throughout the discussions. When the original tentative agreement was worked out allowing employees earning up to $35,000 annually to park in the Fruit Belt, she said, the Albany CSEA was told of the agreement. That plan called for the workers to pay up to $50 a month, on a sliding scale, based on their income to park in the Fruit Belt, Tripi said. The Albany office did some research and objected, asking why employees would have to pay for public parking, Tripi said.
In addition, Tripi said, the unions at that point thought the agreement allowed for parking on both sides of the Fruit Belt streets, but residents wanted to keep the current alternative side of the street parking, the union later learned. Tripi said her office then received a call from the mayor’s office, inviting the CSEA to a meeting. The mayor and Pridgen as well as aides to Peoples-Stokes and Kennedy were there, she said. “We had no idea who was coming,” she said. “We were the only union there.” “The mayor, Darius talked to us. They are the ones that came up with the proposal,” she said, referring to the revised plan. It was Pridgen’s idea to split the parking between residents and the general public, Tripi said. The employee fee idea was dropped, she said. The Albany CSEA office agreed to the plan, Tripi said, since union workers parking in the Fruit Belt would no longer be asked to pay to park on the city streets. “It was a quick meeting,” she said. “We had no idea the CWA or SEIU were not invited.”