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Council Raises Parking Fees, Puts Developer Fees on Hold

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday March 25, 2009 - 07:03:00 PM

With almost a complete lack of controversy or public dissent, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a staff recommendation Tuesday night that will raise most parking citation fines $5 across the board, but significantly higher on University of California football game days. 

The reason for the lack of controversy? The $5 increase is due to recent state legislative action to relieve California’s budget crisis, and all but 50 cents per violation of the increase will pass directly through to the state treasury. 

“I think it’s unfortunate that the state, sort of in the middle of the night, would basically just rip off $4.50 from every parking ticket in the state of California,” Mayor Tom Bates said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “It’s pretty unconscionable. They don’t want to raise taxes. They don’t want to even raise fees. What they do is back-door, and take the money and run. But I don’t think we have much choice. The choice is to cut our budget, but I don’t think we’re prepared to do that.” 

Other councilmembers appear-ed glum about the dilemma, with Councilmember Gordon Wozniak saying that he was “not enthusiastic about raising parking tickets” while making the motion to approve the increases. 

Under the city’s new parking citation schedule, which goes into effect May 1, the fine for parking in a posted no-parking zone, for example, will rise from $51 to $56, a 10 percent increase, while the fine for parking overtime at a two-hour meter will rise from $30 to $35, a 12 percent increase. 

A dollar and a half of the parking ticket pass-through to the state has actually been in effect since January 2003, but the city staff report on the item said that “Berkeley and other cities were not aware of nor were remitting [to the state] the existing $1.50.” With the added $3 pass-through just passed by the Legislature, the report said that, without the city increases, the total $4.50 per ticket payment to the state would result in a $1.35 million loss annually to Berkeley’s budget. 

The report also said that the 50-cent increase recommended for the Berkeley parking fine request over the total $4.50 state increase was needed because the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which will receive the per ticket money, “only processes payments in whole dollar amounts.” The staff report said that the extra 50 cents would be used for “increased program costs” and to “help offset other [city of Berkeley] General Fund revenue losses.” 

Meanwhile, college football game day violations will rise as high as 114 percent, however, with stopping in a bicycle zone in the designated “football Saturday parking enforcement area” rising from $33 to $71, and parking overtime at a pay station in the same area rising from $36 to $53. The staff report for the football day increases did not cite any increased problems encountered on football day or a need for more city revenue, but said only that the increases were needed because “the violations listed for Football Days are currently higher by inconsistent amounts or proportions than general fines for the same violations.” 

While no one from the public spoke against the parking fine increases at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, a large majority of citizens responding to Councilmember Wozniak’s Peak. Democracy. com online forums were in opposition. Berkeley resident Jonathan Wornick wrote that “parking fines should not be a major source of revenue—they should serve to keep parking spaces available. Higher parking costs and fines only keep more people away from spending money in Berkeley.” And Neil Getz said that he would support the increase “only if the increase is temporary, expiring at the expiration of the state’s mandate.” 


Other City Council action 

The council approved 7-2 a staff recommendation to defer up to $200,000 in permit fees for selected new developments and substantial building remodels (Mayor Tom Bates, Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Max Anderson Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf, Gordon Wozniak yes, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington no). City Manager Phil Kamlarz said he would consider both revenue generation and job creation as his office’s criteria for granting the deferrals, which he said were needed because companies often ran into cash-flow problems because they could not get bank loans approved without city permits, and they could not get the permits because they did not have the money from the banks to pay for them. Kamlarz also said that two companies—the Berkeley YMCA and Metro Lighting—have recently asked for permit fee deferrals from the city for proposed construction projects, which were not specifically permitted under existing city policy but could be granted on an individual basis by the City Council. Under the new policy, the city will withhold city occupying permits for any finished projects which have not paid back the deferred fees, and the city manager’s office will make monthly reports to the council on the fee deferrals program. Worthington, saying that he was worried that larger developers would take advantage of the deferrals, argued that the deferrals should be specified for small businesses only, but the council defeated his substitute motion to allow the $200,000 deferral for small businesses and limiting the amount to $100,000 for larger companies. 

The council also approved, on a 5-0-1 vote, a recommendation for the city Housing Department to move forward with a $9 per unit, $4.50 per room fee increase proposal to help finance the city’s Rental Housing Safety Program (Moore, Anderson, Worthington, Bates, Arreguin yes, Wozniak abstain, Maio, Capitelli, and Wengraf recused because they are rental housing property owners affected by the outcome). The fee increases are intended, in part, to speed up the city’s inspections of gas heaters in rental housing property. The Housing Department will bring its recommendation back for decision at the May 19 council meeting.