December 22, 2003 11:00 pm

Parking in downtown La Grande has become an issue of late, spawned by the city's agreement to provide 20 full-time spaces and 10 overnight spaces for tenants of Telos Development's building planned for the former Bohnenkamp site.

Some DOWNTOWN business owners are upset over the parking easement, saying spaces are a premium and should not be guaranteed to individual building owners. Their frustration is understandable, considering the fact their livelihoods depend on drawing customers. But the long-term impact of having La Grande's infamous downtown hole brought back to life with a new building should overshadow any inconvenience 20 dedicated spaces might cause.

Letters to the editor and testimony before the city council indicate that La Grande has a parking problem — especially for those people who want to park directly in front of the businesses or offices they plan to visit. One letter from a downtown business owner indicated the problem isn't as much about having a sufficient number of spaces as it is about keeping downtown business owners and employees out of the prime spots. The problem is one that needs to be addressed. Too, the downtown needs adequate spaces for people with disabilities.

La Grande isn't the only community that faces downtown parking issues. Some communities use parking meters to keep parking in check while raising revenue at the same time. La Grande has chosen a more lenient — but necessary — two-hour limit, which some people don't like. When it comes to parking there are no easy answers.

La Grande's parking problems pale in comparison to many cities. Let's face it: finding a parking spot within a block of a downtown destination isn't that difficult, whether you're headed to Ten Depot, J.C. Penney's, Foley Station, Good Things or even the Masonic Hall. If parking spots aren't available on Adams Avenue, check out Washington or Jefferson or any of the cross streets. You might have to walk a few extra feet if you can't park directly in front of your shop or restaurant, but it's likely to be no farther than walking across the parking lot at a shopping center.

Frustration abounds when it comes to parking. Watch people at a mall circle and circle a parking lot to find the closest space — and sometimes block traffic for a minute or longer to wait for someone else to pull out when another spot exists 30 feet away — and you realize parking issues are not to be taken lightly. Some people even choose to leave their shopping carts in the parking spaces because they don't want to walk a few extra feet to return them.

That La Grande's downtown needs some spaces for people with disabilities can't be argued. But to say that La Grande has a significant parking problem is a stretch.