Is the city of San Luis Obispo showing favoritism to churches by not charging for parking on Sunday mornings, as Atheists United of San Luis Obispo claims?
Yes, but its also showing favoritism to people who go downtown for Sunday morning brunch, to get a head start on shopping or to grab a Sunday newspaper and a vanilla latté.
That said, we agree that the citys decision was largely spurred by concerns from church leaders, who complained that their congregants should not have to worry about pumping money into meters while theyre in church.
And thats the basis for opposition from Atheists United.
The parking times were implemented to appease five downtown churches, states a letter from an attorney representing Atheists United. That fact alone suggests that the ordinance does not have a legitimate nondiscriminatory purpose.
It appears the City Council cant win on this. It tries to charge for parking, and it upsets church hierarchy. It decides not to charge, and runs afoul of Atheists United.
If its any consolation to city officials, this issue isnt just affecting SLO; its been raised in other American cities as well as in Europe and will likely lead to litigation at some point. If a court makes a definitive ruling that overturns free Sunday morning parking because it illegally favors churches, well, so be it.
In the meantime, heres our take: Atheists United has made some sound arguments, and judging by the number of letters to the editor and on-line postings triggered by the story it has generated plenty of thought and philosophical discussion in the community. And thats good.
But to press the issue any further would divide the community.
And for what purpose?
To force the city to charge for parking on Sunday mornings to generate more money for a new parking structure?
If the need for more revenue is so dire, how about charging for metered parking on Thursday nights, when the lots are crowded with Farmers Market shoppers?
On second thought, why not stick with the current fee structure and see if that generates enough funds to keep the new parking garage on schedule?
If not, perhaps then it will be time to revisit Sunday morning parking.
Meanwhile, if Atheists United wants to shine a light on another parking-related issue, it might consider lobbying the council to include a handful of city-owned parking spaces in the newly approved safe parking program.
That way, at least a few more homeless people who are living out of their cars could park somewhere safe at night, without fear of harassment, and Atheists United could make headlines for working for a different kind of change.
And heres a thought: Why not invite religious communities to join in that request?
Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.