Friday, February 26, 2010
Oakland officials said Thursday they have stopped the unequal practice of issuing tickets for certain violations in some neighborhoods while issuing courtesy notices in others.
City Administrator Dan Lindheim said that people who were cited for the violations in question during a four-month period from July 24 to Nov. 12 - when the city says the practice ended - may be able to get their tickets voided on a case-by-case basis.
The announcements came in response to an article in The Chronicle on Thursday, which exposed an internal city memorandum that directed parking officers to issue tickets to cars parked in the wrong direction or on sidewalks anywhere in the city except for two wealthy neighborhoods - Montclair and Broadway Terrace. Cars in those neighborhoods were not tagged but instead received courtesy notices when they violated either of two parking laws.
The two parking laws have long been on the books but had been ignored for decades - particularly in neighborhoods with narrow streets.
People with homes along those narrow streets say they park in the wrong direction because it is impossible to turn around. They also say that they park on the sidewalk to allow access for emergency vehicles - a particular worry for those who remember the Oakland hills fire.
"There's a logic to it," said Lindheim.
As a result, he said the parking department recently came up with a uniform policy applicable to the entire city for ticketing on narrow streets. They will not ticket for those two violations on streets less than 30 feet wide.
Streets narrow enough to qualify for parking in the wrong direction and on a sidewalk are obvious to parking officers and residents alike because they do not have a center line that indicates two-way traffic.
Lindheim said he felt the issue was overblown because it affected only a "minuscule" number of tickets.
Parking department figures obtained by The Chronicle show that in 2009 roughly 7,855 citations were issued for parking on the sidewalk and 98 tickets issued for parking in the wrong direction. Those tickets account for 1.4 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively, of the 561,106 tickets issued last year.
Parking enforcement officers who shed light on the practice in The Chronicle on Thursday alleged that the policy of not ticketing cars in the two Oakland hills neighborhoods led to fines being leveled disproportionately against poor, black and Latino people in the flatlands.
They said they made the issue public because their internal complaints about the policy were not addressed by the city.
One parking enforcement officer, Shirnell Smith, disputed the city's contention that the unequal practice ended in November. She said it was her understanding that it continues. Another parking officer, who declined to be named, said he believed the practice had stopped in November.
The city began enforcing the sidewalk and wrong-direction parking laws in July in an effort to collect more revenue to plug a budget deficit. Parking officers began issuing tickets throughout the city for violations that had previously been ignored.
But the practice provoked immediate outrage in many hills areas and places like the Lakeshore district. Parking Director Noel Pinto told The Chronicle in mid-July that he would void tickets for the two violations issued prior to midnight July 12. Then on July 24, his office issued a memo directing parking officers not to ticket cars in the Montclair and Broadway Terrace neighborhoods - but instead to give them courtesy notices.
Lindheim, however, said the roots of the unequal treatment are in a June 30 City Council discussion about parking on narrow streets - and how city administrators interpreted the council members' words.
During that meeting, council members Larry Reid and Desley Brooks, who represent East Oakland, said they wanted more enforcement.
"It's really a serious problem in my district," said Reid. "I don't know how many neighborhood meetings I go to where people ask that we begin to enforce the ordinances that are on the books. I'm hoping that this will deter those who choose to park unlawfully."
Brooks followed Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente's call for more enforcement by saying only one word: "Ditto."
Their words stood in stark contrast to Councilwomen Jane Brunner and Pat Kernighan, who argued that the city could not simply begin enforcing laws that had long been ignored.
Neither Reid nor Brooks could be reached for comment Thursday.
Kernighan, who represents the Lakeshore area, said the council did not tell the city administration to create an unequal parking ticket policy.
"There was no policy directive or no personal request to treat neighborhoods differently," she said. "That was a decision made by the administration independently."
E-mail Matthai Kuruvila at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle