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Broken meters are no longer a free ride

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Saturday May 11, 2002

city will ticket cars parked too long at broken meters, starting June 15 

Berkeley residents will soon be forced to think at least twice about where and how long they park their cars, as Berkeley is changing its parking enforcement policy. 

The policy, passed by the City Council last month, will allow parking enforcement authorities to issue more than one ticket to cars that overstay the allotted time at broken and vandalized meters. 

The new policy is a part of a “multi-pronged approach toward parking enforcement,” said Phil Kamlarz, Berkeley deputy city manager. 

According to Kamlarz, an increase in parking meter vandalism has allowed many residents to park in broken meter spots all day, causing the city to lose up to $1 million in parking revenue. 

The city has currently embarked on a campaign to educate drivers on the consequences of overstaying at these spots by passing out flyers informing residents of the new policy. 

“The purpose of the new policy is to encourage more turnover parking,” said Kamlarz. 

The city, working in cooperation with UC Berkeley, hopes to allow residents sufficient time to adjust their parking habits before the policy goes into effect on June 15. 

“I think it makes good sense and is a good approach,” said Nad Permaul, Director of the Office of Parking and Transportation at UC Berkeley. 

Permaul adds that while the policy is needed, parking options in the city are already limited and that long-term parking garages in Berkeley can be very expensive. 

Permaul also added that the University has worked with the city to get the message out about the new policy and hopefully change the behavior of many who have become accustom to overstaying the maximum time at broken meter spots. 

Along with the extra parking tickets, the city has created a surveillance team to catch meter vandals. 

“Some people think it's okay to vandalize a meter without realizing the consequences. We want them to know it's a serious offense,” said Kamlarz.  

According to Kamlarz, police surveillance teams will watch for meter crimes in high vandalism areas such as near the UC campus.  

“Certain areas will be targeted for high vandalism. Some of the students think it's cool to do this. We need to change part of this culture,” said Kamlarz.  

Kamlarz cited similar programs near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts where student diplomas have been withheld for vandalism. 

If arrested, vandals could face six months in jail and up to $1000 in fines. 

Reaction to the new policy was decidedly mixed among residents. Many expressed concern over current parking conditions and feel increased enforcement will only make conditions worse while others conceded that the city does need to collect parking funds to run the city.  

According to Shayan Bayat, a student at Vista Community College and El Cerrito resident, the bags, boxes and tape placed on broken meters can be deceiving.  

“I've parked in spots where there's been a bag on the meter so I thought I didn't have to pay and still gotten a ticket,” says Bayat. “This just confuses everyone.” 

Bayat said that he spends up to 45 minutes looking for a spot to park in Berkeley, sometimes parking half an hour away. “It's one of the biggest problems in Berkeley, except for rent,” said Bayat. 

Bayat also emphasized the need for a transportation pass for Vista students similar to the one used by UC Berkeley students on AC Transit, citing the high cost of both BART and other transportation options. 

“As long as it's broken, I see it as a free spot,” said Berkeley driver Tim Ware. 

After learning of the new policy, however, Ware commented that he may think twice about parking all day in spaces with broken meters. 

“It makes me nervous,” said Ware. “Sure there's an argument for it, the city has to run.” 

Not all Berkeley residents felt the policy was unfair. According to Edward Lavender there seems to be an overly hostile attitude in Berkeley toward parking enforcement. 

“I don't think you should get away with not paying just because you broke a meter,” said Lavender.  

Other residents say the policy is fair as long as they are not ticketed for parking at broken meters before the maximum time has elapsed. 

Bernard Balan, a UC Berkeley student, says the new policy will probably force a lot of drivers to park in public lots. According to Balan, the city should fix the vandalized meters and not issue tickets at those spots. 

“I don't think the city should do that. I think the city should fix the meter or not hand out a ticket,” said Balan.