The pay parking protest didn't quite get the numbers expected, but hundreds still turned out to Lot 1 on Saturday to say "Hell No" to the municipality's parking plan.
Kicking off at about 10 a.m. as runners turned in from the Whistler Half-Marathon, a couple hundred people were seen dropping by Lot 1 for a friendly protest that was advertised on Facebook with the moniker, "Hell No We Won't Pay."
The Facebook group indicated that 1,324 people were expected to show up. The event didn't draw quite those numbers but eager Whistlerites still turned out on an unusually sunny day of late to make clear their opposition to the Resort Municipality of Whistler's plan to, among other things, raise the price of a full day of summer parking from $12 to $13.50.
Aki Kaltenbach, co-president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler, served Japanese hot dogs and iced green tea alongside representatives from the Harajuku Izakaya restaurant located near the Whistler Conference Centre in the Village.
Restaurant employees wore kimonos and handed out cheeky flyers showing that for $13.50, the proposed price for a full day of summer parking in Day Lots 1, 2 and 3, one could afford two bowls of food from Harajuku.
Kaltenbach, the business manager for O & R Entertainment, a holding company for La Brasserie, La Bocca, Amsterdam Pub and Maxx Fish, said in an interview that pay parking has had a detrimental effect on those businesses.
"It's hard to put a number on it, but already last year was down from the year before and this year is just worse," she said. "When you come into the village it's like a ghost town. Yeah, sure, the May long weekend is a good weekend, but it's every other day, you know, it's just not been good."
At around 11 a.m. about 13 vehicles were parked in Lot 1, many of them with neon yellow signs reading "Hell No" affixed to license plates. People at the protest said that a representative from the municipality dropped by Lot 1 earlier in the day and turned off the parking meters so that no one had to pay.
A DJ played classic rock hits from one corner of the lot and one attendant in a pickup truck turned his vehicle into a tailgate, with plastic deck chairs piled in back.
Melissa Saarinen, a 20-year-old waitress at a restaurant in Nesters, wore a shirt reading, "Even Monopoly has free parking."
"I don't actually work in the Village, but I do work for minimum wage, which as a waitress is still $8.50," she said. "If you have to pay $13.50 a day for parking, you're basically working your first hour and a half for free, just to pay to go to work, which is ridiculous."
Ted Milner, an opponent of the pay parking plan, was the only member of council present at the protest. He said the event had a good turnout and demonstrated that the Parking Lot Operations Committee, a group with representatives from the municipality and Whistler Blackcomb that administers rates in the Day Lots, didn't do enough consultation with the community on their plan.
"When they were talking about rolling this out in the beginning, they were talking about a range of choices, as recommended by Jim Watts (manager of parking in the Marketplace)," Milner said. "He said if you want to park by the lift, it should be expensive, and if they want to hoof it, it should be cheap or free and there should be choices in between.
"We should be looking to the customer, our residents, our guests and work back from there as to what's reasonable."