Public Comment

Commentary: Parking Tickets: A Hidden Agenda?

By Steve Tabor
Tuesday December 05, 2006

In the Nov. 28 issue Rob Browning gets yet another chance to explain his behavior during his Oct. 31 parking ticket incident. Mr. Browning’s arrest appears in a different light after Judith Scherr’s report on the City of Berkeley budget in the Nov. 17 issue. Scherr’s report shows an unexpected $500,000 increase in parking ticket fines for 2006, one of only three revenue items on the way up. No figures were given for total fines collected, but if a $500,000 increase is thought to be significant, total fines for the year must be in the millions. My opinion of the Browning incident has now done a 180-degree turn. It seems not all the facts about the incident have come to light. 

One thing missing in the Planet’s pages is the other side of the story. Why haven’t you allowed the parking enforcement officer equal time to tell her own version of the incident? Readers need to know why she thought it necessary to ticket a vehicle with one or two wheels on the sidewalk, a circumstance quite common on streets nationwide. Mr. Browning alleges in his original commentary that he was not blocking the sidewalk. What does the officer say? How much of the vehicle was on the sidewalk? Did she measure the width occupied, either in feet (or inches?) or in percentage of coverage? Was this “blockage” really a blockage, or merely an excuse to pad her statistics? More importantly, was this blockage worth a new addition to her colorful and stylish epaulet? Perhaps she never considered that such an addition to her epaulet (Browning’s ticket) would occur. Perhaps she is now aware that such an addition could indeed happen at any time, now that she knows the likely result of her ticketing such feet or inches of indiscretion. 

I think that this officer needs an opportunity to write her own commentary on the Planet’s pages. In the light of the City of Berkeley’s fervent tracking of yearly, monthly and daily dollars of parking fines, readers need to know if this officer is subjected to a quota of tickets during her daily rounds, and if so, exactly how much in fines she is expected to generate for the city each day. Is there a qualitative measure of what parking actions would warrant a fine and what exactly counts toward her quota? Does she receive a bonus for writing tickets, including tickets for “blockages” such as that of Browning? After all, parking fines are important to the City of Berkeley. Just how much of Berkeley’s $500,000 windfall was this officer responsible for in fiscal 2006? The officer needs an opportunity to state this for the record and to justify her actions. 

If this officer declines to write such a commentary, Planet readers are certainly entitled to at least know her name so they can interview her themselves. If the officer is prevented from telling her side of the story by her superiors, under the theory that she is merely an employee (as, for example, the Nuremberg defendants, “not responsible” for her actions), and anything she says would not represent parking enforcement policy (or whatever other lame excuse the department might give), then an official representative of Berkeley Parking Enforcement should be required to give the department’s side of the story. Perhaps such a representative could explain quotas, incentives, the place of parking fines in City budget projections, etc., and how these fines are used to offset property taxes for owners of homes worth $500,000 or $1,000,000. That’s the least the Planet can do to illuminate this incident further for your readers. I would think it your professional duty as journalists to give equal time to the Parking Enforcement Department. 

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle described four incidents of assaults on parking enforcement officers and their vehicles in that city in six days. To my knowledge none of the Browning-types in these incidents have apologized for their behavior. In fact, they reveled in it and laughed at the inane officers involved. Is Browning’s apology merely a new form of Berkeley “political correctness,” or is 

the San Francisco method the real way to go? Only Planet readers can decide, but we need more information. 

One has to wonder about a city with a $32 million annual property tax revenue spending so much time and effort collecting parking fines. And we don’t even know how many thousands of dollars each parking enforcement officer is making for her efforts; hopefully each one generates enough fines to pay her salary. Five hundred thousand dollars is an awful lot of pretty epaulets. Let’s hope Mr. Browning’s officer polishes or at least fondles hers daily. 


Steve Tabor is an Oakland resident.