There have been points during the last year when Santa Fe was poised to factionalize into parking wars. Especially as paid parking became a reality in the Railyard, it looked like violence was unavoidable. It sounds extreme, but I have it on good authority that a Santa Fe Reporter distribution box was hurled into the street after this column defended paid parking. So, you know, torches and pitchforks could have followed.

Santa Fe Farmers Market administrators were convinced that people who get hot over artisanal goat cheese and shishito peppers would suddenly start shopping at Lowes and Walmart, lured by the sweet scent of free parking. A whole other faction of Santa Fe-ain't-what-it-used-to-be people rose up, inspired by their fond memories of when the whole town was a dirt lot and you could park wherever you damn well pleased. Those were the days.

I honestly thought city Parking Division Director Bill Hon might be hunted down like an animal and flayed between two parking meters. Or at least burned in effigy. For months people approached me in the streets to demand that SFR uncover the public reaming that was being doled out by unfair parking policies.

One daily paper was so convinced no one would ever find the underground parking at the Railyard, it opined a fix in the form of a giant, helium-filled balloon that would alert distant drivers to the dark oasis of 9-by-20 slots.

The placement of lettering that reads "no parking" in traffic lanes in front of the train tracks, when the real meaning is "no stopping," was either pure dim-wittedness or a subtle gouge at Santa Fe's fragile parking psyche.

Because the city installed strange receipt-spitting robots instead of individual meters to collect fees for surface parking at the Railyard, a grassroots rebellion of shared slips sprung up. The unwritten rule, assuming you have time left on your ticket, is to hand it to a new arrival as you leave. Employees of Railyard-based businesses have been known to get a dangerous, Clint Eastwood-style twitch in their eyes when they talk about having to pony up to these cyborg enforcers for parking privileges.

Sanbusco Market Center installed the same silly parking robots and then, in a fit of what I assume was embarrassment, had them removed.

But all of a sudden, everything is sort of OK. No one was killed, life goes on, and people will pay to park to buy Jerusalem artichokes and grass-fed beef.

"New parking patterns take about a year to establish," Hon says. And the city's reduced $1 rate for parking in the Railyard garage has lured parkers as intended, with no need for a balloon.

"On weekends, the parking lot is pretty much full," Hon says. "People have realized that they can fight for a space or they can cruise into the garage, pay a buck, park out of the heat and pop out of the elevator right in front of REI."

Hon also explains that paid surface parking is in line with other commercial-use city streets—malls and shopping centers have free parking because they're private property, whereas every road in the Railyard is an official city street. And his division has an obligation to pay the debt service on Railyard infrastructure and the underground parking garage.

Hon's annual bill for the next two years to cover those costs is $600,000.

Contrast that expense with expected Railyard parking revenue for the current fiscal year: $344,000 ($200,000 from the garage and $144,000 from street parking) and it's clear Hon has to divert other parking income to cover the Railyard nut. It is, Hon says, "a hard hickey to swallow."

The projected 2009/2010 citywide parking revenue (including citations and accounting for the parking division's interest-earning enterprise fund) is $5.1 million. Hon says he's allowed for poor economic conditions, but that early indications are up: July 2009 was $900 stronger than the same month in 2008. Hey, every little bit counts.

There's also good news for employees and business owners in the area. Monthly parking passes are available in the underground garage. Initially, what felt like a handful of passes were available only by lottery. That tight-fisted approach was due to plans for a 14-screen movie theater—plans that at this point are years away, if not outright fantasy. The result is significantly more passes available for folks who want them. The price is 60 bucks a month, which is almost fair for a Railyard-area member of the workforce—if you can get your boss to pay half of it. More surface parking passes will be available once the ArtYard live-work lofts are completed.

Finally, Hon says some of the cyborg parking 'bots will be replaced with regular old meters. If that's a move to stop the grassroots sharing of parking receipts, Hon won't admit to it. "People have just been a little confused," he says. "We're hoping that the standard meters will make things more clear."

And maybe, just maybe, prevent an all-out war.