Page One

Plainclothes officers to stalk parking meters

By Jia-Rui Chong Daily Planet staff
Wednesday April 03, 2002

Parking vandals, beware. 

Very soon, plainclothes policemen are going to be watching parking meters near the UC Berkeley campus and the downtown area. 

If someone puts in anything besides a coin in the e-PARK meter that person will be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. This could result in fines up to $1,000 and six months of jail time. 

Parking vandalism is a problem again,the Berkeley Police Department said in a press release Monday. While three years ago the problem was chopping off whole meter heads, for the past two years it has been coin slots clogged with metal slugs, coins wrapped in paper, paper clips or gum.  

“We think they’re doing it because they’re looking for free parking all day long,” Lt. Bruce Agnew of the Traffic Bureau said Tuesday. 

In the last six months of 2001, said Agnew, 6,515 meters in the city had to be cleared. 5,116 of the repairs were made on the greater UC campus area and 1,256 in the downtown area. 

To step-up enforcement, officers who have otherwise been involved in traffic enforcement or other units, will be posted in the two problem areas periodically to do surveillance, according to Agnew. One officer might follow the parker to see where he/she is going while another officer checks the meter. Officers will also be time cars parked at broken meters, issuing citations when the maximum time limit for that spot is exceeded. 

This is not going to entail extra hours by police officers or more staff, but will be part of being on-duty, said Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz. If a more important call comes in, of course, police will answer those first. 

Parking meter vandalism has been an expensive problem for the city, said Kamlarz. He estimated that the city will lose $800,000 and $1 million of meter revenue by the end of this fiscal year. And this cost to the city does not count the 1,000 to 1,200 hours of staff time spent fixing the meters or the parts. 

“25 cents is no big deal, but this is a million-dollar problem,” said Kamlarz. “It’s going to have an impact on services. If it doesn’t change, we’re going to have to cut back our services by $1 million.” 

But Kamlarz said that upping enforcement is only one approach the city hopes to employ to solve the vandalism problem. His office has also proposed to City Council that the police be allowed to issue more than one citation for a car that parks illegally for an entire day. Because the city can only issue one citation – if any at all are issued – people are willing to gamble on the ticket instead of seeking a parking garage or feeding the meter, said Kamlarz. 

The city is also looking to work with the businesses on Telegraph Avenue, the worst hit part of the city, on a pilot project in which certain zones will be designated as one- or two-hour parking areas. 

“The good news for auto drivers is that, in this pilot program, parking is free. But if they overextend their stay, then there’s a double fine,” said Kathy Berger, Executive Director of the Telegraph Area Association. 

There has been a problem with commuters coming into Berkeley and staying in at spots with broken meters all day, said Berger. But businesses would prefer a higher turnover. 

“The hoped-for result is more short-term parkers who want to do business in our area,” she said. 

“Those people who stay there all day long, do you think they’re really shopping in our district?” 

UC Police Captain Bill Cooper said that the university hasn’t had a problem with meter vandalism because the university does not own that many, nor does it enforce the parking at meters near its campus. He did say that parking permit dispensing machines at their lots have sometimes been vandalized. 

“We have occasional problems, but nothing lately,” said Cooper.