Those Phantom Parking Tickets

Friday August 13, 2004

Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Sunday, Aug. 8, issue of the Contra Costa Times has a letter to the editor from a man who claims he received a parking citation from San Francisco on a day that his FASTrack record shows he was not in The City that day. 

How could this happen? I believe I have the answer. Last year the use of a quota system was made legal by the California Vehicle Code section 41600 et seq. A quota may be used as long as it is not the sole principal to be used for judging an officer’s performance. 

Berkeley used a quota system starting in 1993 when parking violations were changed from criminal to ccvil. The receipt of a citation is proof of guilt. And the citing officer may not be called into court to be cross examined. 

A parking citation is supposed to include the VIN number recorded off the vehicle (at the lower left corner of the windshield) but it is available from the DMV for local police if a license plate number is given. 

So officers under pressure invent citations, using all the data from their computers. Many persons do not challenge citations and pay them without hesitation. 

Many cities have made parking citations into a form of revenue to subsidize their General Fund, collecting far beyond the cost of enforcement. All in violation of Prop. 13 which requires a two-thirds vote of the voters. 

Other citations have been sent by mail after an officer has seen a person wait for a driver to pull out of a parking space; let out their child at school; leave a package at a friend’s house, for blocking traffic in front of a truck that was stopped the whole time, all in violation of different sections of the Vehicle Code. 

Some citations are issued when there is still time on a meter. Other short-time meters are left unrepaired for long periods, etc. 

The whole process is based on collecting as much money as possible. The three-step process to challenge citations deliberately made to be as cumbersome as possible, with penalties added up for missing deadlines. 

ADA protests by elderly or disabled are deliberately ignored so far with impunity by Berkeley. 

Lawyers seldom help with parking citations, so citizens, especially the poor, are caught in a web of high costs and wasted time that is very difficult to live with. 

Many merchants are very aware of the problem which hurts business. 

I suggest that a widely-used program by all persons using parking spaces to report out-of-order parking meters would be an effective way to correct this government fraud. All drivers should still pay whatever the cost is to rent the space to park because it is a legitimate way to encourage short-time use of the street parking. 

Charles L. Smith