Commentary: Citations and Protestations

Tuesday May 10, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet:  

Once again I dutifully paid a traffic violation fine prior to the due date written on the citation. About a month later I received the court courtesy notice requesting payment. I called the court to determine if payment had been received. I was told the due date or appearance date on the citation should be disregarded. My citation had not been processed into the court data system. It was unclear if my payment would be processed later or returned. But now, I was being asked to clear the citation and supply proof of correction again. 

My memory was jarred, I recalled this same scenario years before. So I asked why does this seem to happen regularly. Seems I hit a nerve. 

The traffic division clerk explained that this disconnect has been an issue for more than 20 years. Numerous efforts to resolve this have gone nowhere, despite the obvious solution. Meanwhile the court receives about 250 calls per day from confused, duty bound citizens. Many take off work, fly in from out of town and in general waste a lot of their valuable time trying to comply with the arbitrary date written in by BPD. There is a general sense that the city is attempting to increase revenues through traffic fines, perhaps now is a good time to clean up this customer service issue. I for one feel jerked around. 

Laura Menard 



Editors, Daily Planet:  

Enough already with the City of Berkeley’s ridiculous enforcement of traffic and parking citations—just to ring up money for the city budget. Lately I’ve read stories about people being ticketed for beeping their horn while passing a protest (Oh, come on! Really! Does that deserve a ticket?), to parking tickets for facing the “wrong direction” on a street—something some people are forced to do because of the crazy “traffic control” barriers, no-turn and one-way streets in Berkeley. I even read about a guy who got a ticket (in the mail) for driving in the carpool lane on the Bay Bridge on a day he wasn’t even in San Francisco. 

I’m writing this letter to let Daily Planet readers know that we should start protesting—and in my case suing—the city over inappropriate traffic citations. Why does this irritate me? This has been sticking in my craw since I was given a ticket on University Avenue one night about a year ago. I was filling my car up with gas at a station on University, and another car pulled in facing my headlights. I turned off my headlights as a courtesy to the other driver—but left my parking lights on. When I pulled out, I didn’t realize my headlights were still off. My dashboard was lit up because I did have my parking lights on, but not my headlights. After driving a few blocks up University—a very well lit street—I saw a police car start to follow me. Suddenly, I realized that my headlights were still off because I hit a dark part of the street—too late. I was pulled over and given a ticket for—get this—$185! Even the cashier at the city office couldn’t believe the amount of that ticket. When I told the cop that I just pulled out of a gas station, and didn’t realize that my headlights were off (I even showed him the receipt) he said “Tell it to the traffic court judge...” Nice guy, thanks. 

So, if that wasn’t bad enough, this latest ticket is the last straw. I was mailed a ticket (mailed, mind you, this was not placed on my car windshield) for parking in front of a fire hydrant near King Middle School. The only problem is that the date and time on the ticket (Oct. 6, 2004 at 8:09 a.m.) were for a day my son had a field trip; and I was still at home eating breakfast at the time they claim I was parked in front of the hydrant.  

To make this even more amazing, I have a witness who saw me pull up in front of King (on Rose Street, not Edith Street, where they claim I was parked) and let my son off at 8:30 a.m. for his field trip. Now, I have tried to protest this ticket, and as far as the city is concerned I am guilty until proven innocent. Hey! Wait a damn minute... is Berkeley part of the U.S.A.? Or have we been moved to some banana republic while I was sleeping at night? 

So, to make a long story short, despite mailing them a letter from my friend corroborating my story (a doctor by the way, and a very responsible person); and also including a letter from the teacher at King telling us to arrive at 8:30 a.m., on Oct. 6, and meet the field trip school bus in front of King (on Rose Street)—as far as the City of Berkeley is concerned sorry, no dice, pay up. Huh??? I’m sorry but why? Why? Should anyone have to pay a ticket that is obviously erroneous? The answer I got from Susie Monary-Wilson of the City of Berkeley, is because it’s the meter maid’s word against mine—and so the ticket stands. I guess having an eyewitness doesn’t amount to jack in this town. Even more insulting is that doesn’t say much for what my “word” with worth around Berkeley. Of course the fact that my son and my family can also testify we were not there that morning doesn’t count for much either. I guess none of us can be trusted to tell the truth. 

There you go... innocent until proven guilty? Sorry, not in Berkeley, guilty until proven innocent, and then still pronounced guilty by a city clerk. Is it official city policy to just let those tickets fly, and start counting the money? Must be. I’m afraid you are “guilty” despite what you can say, do, or show to prove otherwise—so you’ll just have to pay up folks.  

I am now planning on suing the City of Berkeley in small claims court over this latest nonsense. I recommend anyone out there who’s been ripped off in a similar fashion do the same. Oh yeah, and honk if you support this protest! 

Phil Pickering 



Editors, Daily Planet:  

I live in an overwhelmed state of mind. My life is dictated by the challenges of getting across San Pablo Avenue, finding a parking space, having change for a parking meter, and having the parking meter work—not to mention the endurance test of getting through whatever task I have before me without losing my grip, as my harried and hurried existence is inundated with the paperwork for documenting my innocence, often the result of the errors made by inept people. 

On April 8 I was involved in one of my many obligations that require perseverance, and hopefully, patience. It was pouring rain and I had the good fortune of finding a parking space only a couple of blocks from Berkeley High School, where I was trying to retrieve transcripts that never got from the traditional high school to Independent Study where my son goes to school this year. Since it has become nearly impossible to reach anyone on the telephone, I spend a percentage of my life driving, finding parking, parking, waiting on line, finding the person I need to talk to, or at least the person who is allegedly able to refer me to the person who can refer me to the person I need to talk to. 

My parking space was too good to be true, because the parking meter ate my quarter while I stood in the pouring rain and blowing wind. I put a note on the parking meter and ran the two blocks to Berkeley High, but not before I tried to dig my quarter out of the jammed meter and had the satisfaction of kicking the pole that supported the meter. 

I was shuffled from a waiting line (where I was able to hear the announcements being made live over the loudspeaker regarding the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered meeting schedule—the prelude of the announcement was from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti) to the office of the registrar. My experience in the registrar’s office was painless—I was actually given the paperwork I needed quickly. The registrar at Berkeley High totally has her act together. 

When I returned to my car the note had blown away and my car had a ticket on its windshield in a little plastic bag. But just ahead on the block was the “meter gestapo.” I drove up to her vehicle and explained that the meter was broken. The driver barked, “1947 Center” at me and drove away. 

On April 15 I went to the dreaded 1947 Center St. and waited in line, having found a parking space several blocks away with a working meter! When it was my turn, the woman at the counter barked at me and gestured to the forms that enable the citizens of Berkeley an opportunity to contest a parking ticket. When I came back to the line with my completed form, having waited through the second cue, I had the unfortunate luck of ending up at the same barking woman’s computer terminal. She separated the layers of no-carbon-required copies and handed me a pink one. Then I was told to call in three weeks if I had not heard from the City of Berkeley. I started to write down the instructions for my next task and made the mistake of asking what the date three weeks from now would be. The woman refused to discuss the three week date with me and made it very clear in a very unpleasant way that she was not there to help me. I noticed a little tiny calendar next to her computer monitor and I asked her if she would mind turning the page so that I could see the dates in May. She told me that, “it was my responsibility to find a calendar”. 

My property taxes pay that bitch’s salary. And if she is a civil servant, then she is a servant to the people of this city. I would never have a job if spoke to people the way that woman spoke to me. I would never speak to anyone like that. I didn’t even speak to her like that after she spoke to me like that. I just left the building wondering, once again, what happened to the human race. 

Pat Hilliard