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Parking Meter War Continues

By David Scharfenberg
Friday September 27, 2002


A squad of parking meter technicians is the city’s latest response to the continuing problem of meter failure. The move comes as vandalism and coin-recognition problems continue to drain city coffers and aggravate downtown drivers. 

In addition to the repair team, police crackdowns on vandalism are up. A surveillance team arrested two more UC Berkeley students Tuesday morning for jamming meters on Bancroft Way. 

Police charged Zhang Ying Yun, 20, and Shalomda Reynolds, 19, with two misdemeanors – vandalism and tampering with a coin-operated machine. The students face a six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

The Berkeley Police Department has now arrested four people for jamming meters near UC Berkeley in a series of three undercover stings dating back to April. 

City officials say vandalism, which has struck an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the city’s 3,200 meters, has cost the city roughly $1 million in repairs and lost revenue per year. 

Patrick Keilch, deputy director of public works, said repeated vandalism may have contributed to another nagging meter problem – failure to read coins properly. 

Lt. Bruce Agnew of the police department’s traffic bureau said residents using faulty meters get less time than they paid for, or no time at all.“That’s obviously frustrating for people,” he said. 

Berkeley resident Marianne Robinson said she has dropped coins into meters only to see a “fail” message flash. 

“It’s one of those things that gets to be a little maddening,” she said. 

The city spent more than $1.5 million to replace all of its meters in 1998 and 1999, according to Keilch. Duncan Industries Parking Control Systems, of Harrison, Ark., supplied the vast majority of those meters. 

Keilch said the city has reached an “amicable agreement” with Duncan Industries over the coin recognition problem. The company has provided free training to city staff in fixing meters and a limited number of free new parts. 

“They want these meters to work as much as we do,” said Keilch. 

Armed with the new parts and training, a full-time staff of four repair technicians are fixing city meters on a constant basis. Four of the city’s parking enforcement officers, or “meter maids,” also received the Duncan training and are conducting repairs on a part-time basis. 

Grace Maguire, assistant to the city manager, said the undercover stings are part of a multi-pronged effort to thwart vandalism. 

In July, as part of a six-month pilot program, the city placed green canvas bags over the 240 often-vandalized meters on Durant and Bancroft streets, between Dana Street and Piedmont Avenue, south of the UC Berkeley campus. 

Officials said most of the vandalism has occurred in this area, where parking is scarce and garages are expensive.  

The police department has dedicated one parking enforcement officer to patrol the relatively small area each day and issue $23 fines for people who exceed the parking time limit – usually one hour.  

Officials hope the new system might yield more revenue than a series of meters that were rendered useless by repeated vandalism. 

“We’re going to see how it works and gauge the effectiveness,” said Maguire. 

The city has not seen a significant jump in tickets since the program went into effect in mid-July, Maguire said, but that was before the students returned to school. Maguire hopes to see improvement in the coming months. 

A recently-passed City Council ordinance allowing traffic enforcement officers to issue multiple tickets for a car that remains in the same space too long should aid the effort. 

Kathy Berger, executive director of the Telegraph Area Association, a local community development organization, said the pilot program has paid another kind of dividend.  

Tight enforcement means that cars are moving in and out of the area quickly, Berger said. As a result, shoppers have an easier time finding parking spots and patronizing local businesses. 

“It appears to be working extremely well,” she said. “It has actually helped some people’s businesses.” 

For now, police department spokesperson Officer Mary Kusmiss said it is too early to measure the success of the city’s anti-vandalism efforts. 

“But getting the information out there that there is regular enforcement and conducting these stings, hopefully will mitigate the problem,” she said.