SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA -- Ask any San Franciscan about parking in the city and more likely than not you'll hear the most derogatory comments - not to mention many "colorful" words - ever mentioned about a city department. Exorbitant fees, restrictive rules, lack of parking spaces and elimination of the last free spots in the city are some of the major contributing factors. Add to that frequent blatant disregard for citizens' rights, inaccessible DPT Administrative Policy and its statutes favoring the agency and you'll know why SFMTA (that absorbed DPT) produces such animosity.
Decriminalization of parking offences seemed like a good idea on the surface, but with no legal restrictions, the agency can set up its own rules that you must follow. Just one of many examples: as an individual, you have 3 min. to park in yellow zones for loading or unloading passengers or cargo. Commercial vehicles get 15 min to 2 hours to do the same. Fair enough? Some folks need 3 min. just to get out of the car and open the trunk. What if you need to load/unload furniture and there's no parking available? Get a ticket.
It seems, many restrictions are written with $$ signs in the head of their creators - not the regulation of the traffic flow as the purpose of the agency states. Besides all of the above, it's the mean spirited PCOs, Parking Control Officers (talking about pompous titles), AKA "meter maids", who will do everything they can - legal or not - to ticket you. Sneaking up from behind while you're sitting in the car or blocking it to prevent you from leaving while they're writing a ticket are some of the tricks of the trade. Is it allowed? Without access to DPTs internal rules of conduct, you'll never know.
To find out, you must get access to the above-mentioned DPT Policy - good luck with that! (Some employees will tell you it does not exist). Theoretically, you can request it in writing, wait for the reply and pay for copies and postage if you want hard copies of the pages they select for you. Otherwise, they will schedule your visit to a location of their choosing so that you can peruse it yourself. Now who got time to do all this?! Don't worry, you'll never get to that point. I requested it online, even wrote to the director and never heard back from anyone.
Hence, the odds are stuck against the average citizen who is busy working and living to fight that monstrous bureaucracy. I managed to get my hands on a few pages of the Training Bulletin for PCOs pertaining to driveway "blockage" (sounds like an intestinal problem). Exciting read if you can get your hands on the whole thing, but here are a few pearls: a driveway must have a cut curb to be valid even if there's a garage; abandoned driveways are not legal - no cite, no tow; the complainant MUST open the garage door to cite a blocking car; notifying the owner is a courtesy only if they live close-by, but "the vehicle should be cited first"(!)
Moreover, the complainant must give consent to notify the owner! SF meanies - rejoice! Perusing the codes can also be quite informative. Did you know that red zones without DPT logo are illegal and not enforceable? If you're fed up and are willing to waste your time and stand up for your rights, DPT will teach you a lesson so that you'll never forget. First, you protest in writing and, regardless of the circumstances, most likely, you get a reply that your ticket is valid. Another mail hearing will probably bring the same negative result.
Now you need to go to the DPT office in person and have a hearing with one of the hearing officers - HOs (office hours only). Moreover, you have just 3 weeks to do this and prepay your fine before the hearing. Ever heard of innocent before proven guilty? You don't pay that fine into a court of law, you pay it to DPT, so what is the incentive for them to give it back to you?! There is a provision for low-income earners whose fee can be waived, but you'll never know unless you happen to dig into the CVC to find out that DPT MUST inform you about it ahead of time and send you the application form. They don't. Wait, it gets worse.
Lets say you cannot afford to pay the fine. Compassionate San Franciscans created and passed Project 20, a program that allows citizens to work off their parking tickets at the city non-profits. At $6 per hour, it's below the established minimum wage, (at this time, the city is facing a lawsuit for breaking its own laws) but it's better than nothing - you help the community and help yourself. Most importantly, you divert the funds from DPT coffers. Sounds great, but there's a catch: you show up at the hearing and suddenly you must sign a waiver to give up your right to Project 20 if you want to protest your ticket. No signature - no hearing.
Again, no warning and no time extension: you're cornered into the decision to either waive your right to protest or lose your money if the hearing is not decided in your favor. Once again, it's justice for those who can afford it, the poor would not risk their meager earnings to have a chance to protest, especially if you're a little David fighting a Goliath and your chances of winning are slim to none. You want to protest? Pay up! Just reading a parking ticket is a daunting task with its abbreviations and codes. So the odds are always stuck against the most vulnerable and least educated segment of the population who cannot afford exorbitant fines.
Oh sure, we all grunt and complain, but it's amazing that in this vibrant and sophisticated city with a large number of educated people these DPT rules have not been challenged and reversed. Too many more serious issues to deal with? Maybe, but it's our daily quality of life and sense of justice that are being challenged and trampled upon. One organized citizens' revolt just might bring results if we ALL say: "I won't take it anymore!" Reading Craigslist and other forums is educational to say the least.
Along with many outcries for help, there are some helpful posts, but there are also quite a few irritable and outright rude folks who misdirect their anger and blame the victim - drivers in this case. They can't be all DPT employees, can they? Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to parking forums, it seems to be quite pervasive. Even Chronicle editor John Diaz lamented about it in his May 11 editorial We've Got Mail - Some with a Kick. How about channeling your anger into something constructive? There are citizens whose lead should be followed.
Marc Perkel provides space on his website to give voice to public frustration with DPT. http://marc.perkel.com/2003/08/09/im-tired-of-san-francisco-parking-tickets/. SFSOS (sfsos.org ) is doing something productive by organizing San Franciscans to fight multiple city problems, including parking issues.
California Superior court dealt with many parking woes in the city and produced the following report in 2000-2001 http://www.sfgov.org/site/courts_page.asp?id=3725. It's a long read, but if you have the patience, peruse it and check how many problems have been addressed - not in theory, but in practice.
Why is this sorry state of affairs allowed to continue? DPT has long been the city's sacred cash cow - it has to pay for itself (including some of the highest salaries for low skilled work) AND raise revenues. And it's asking for more. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/28/BAOFVSA29.DTL&tsp=1. Why would any politician slap the hand that's feeding the coffers?
So what can you do? To aggravate the system that's already clogged you can fight every ticket you get - even if you lose, you, at the very least, delay your payment for weeks if not months and there's no additional penalties while it's being appealed. Here's the process: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/penf/13441.html#protest
If you have time, check your ticket for any mistakes and omissions Find the claimed violation in the California Vehicle Code (CVC http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/vc/vc.htm) or Traffic Code: http://www.municode.com/content/4201/14143/HTML/index.html Find your section and pay attention to every detail - you just might find something useful for your protest.
If your time is more valuable, there are companies that will help you beat the ticket for half of the fine amount, some will even refund your money if they lose. If you got time, but no money and are too tired to fight the system, use Project 20 - you'll save $$ and help non-profits. 'Democracy is not a spectator sport', it's up to all of us to shake the status quo and fight for our rights.