Ronni Harris promises she won’t be a parking Nazi.
The local artist was hired as Astoria’s new community outreach officer to enforce parking rules and help visitors navigate downtown.
Her role is “educating, and then also writing tickets, but also being a friendly downtown Astoria ambassador,” she said.
Harris is a part-time employee funded by lodging taxes in the city’s Promote Astoria fund whose hours will mirror the times of metered downtown parking. Sarah Lu Heath, the director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, said the city had requested the partnership and will receive any of the money from tickets, while the downtown association gets an ambassador to help direct visitors.
The city has long had a downtown parking district between Seventh to 16th streets and the Astoria Riverwalk to Franklin Avenue where parking is mostly limited to two hours or less. Parking is also prohibited to business owners, employees and downtown residents to help create turnover for visitors and customers.
But enforcement is a continual challenge, and parking an ever-thorny issue. The city has not had a parking enforcement officer since Officer John Hord retired four years ago. “They’ve been begged to in the last year,” Heath said.
The new position is one of several for Harris, a prolific artist who works in several mediums, including quilted paintings, tile work and custom dog portraits.
While being a downtown ambassador for the city, Harris also leads bike tours on the Astoria Riverwalk with cruise ship visitors for Sundial Travel, and volunteers with Meals on Wheels in Seaside.
Harris will be in a uniform with her community outreach officer title and the downtown association logo. She is being introduced to local business owners and writing courtesy tickets, with enforcement to pick up after the holidays.
The reaction is mixed when she tells people about her new job.
“I was really going, ‘Oh God, what did I get myself into,’” Harris said. “But then, once I started walking around and getting to know a lot of the people, it’s also been very positive, and people are very glad I’m going to be doing it. So I would like to turn it into everybody’s going to be glad I’m there. They’re going to be glad to see me coming. They’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, you’re the parking Nazi?’”