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Need a Job?: San Jose's parking enforcement agency is one of the only departments that's hiring.

Ticket Masters

Welcome to San Jose's exciting new growth industry: parking enforcement!

By Allie Gottlieb

ERIK HALLGRIMSON, the young vice president of a Santa Clara real estate brokerage firm, had yet to drive his new '84 Silver Spirit Rolls Royce when he got his first parking ticket. The lucky winner of a $100-a-pop raffle drawing held at the Sheriff's Advisory Board's Nov. 20 dinner, he descended the steps of Capital Club Athletics at 196 N. Third St. to find Citation No. 26039911 on the windshield of the car he'd just won. Surrounded by spotlights, with signs reading "Win this car ... buy a raffle ticket" on the car's windows, Hallgrimson thought the $28 ticket for overstaying a five-minute pedestrian-loading-zone limit had to be some kind of practical joke.

But no. Apparently, even the grand prize of a charity event designed to raise money for a fellow law enforcement agency isn't immune from the long arms of San Jose's parking enforcement officers.

Hallgrimson is one of the growing number of parking ticket recipients in and around downtown San Jose as the city steps up enforcement of parking infractions. While other city services face budget cuts, declining revenues and reduced staffing, parking enforcement is booming. Growing numbers of meter readers now prowl the streets at all hours in new propane-powered vehicles looking for parking scofflaws. They sport spiffy logos on their golf shirts and windbreakers, and carry handheld computers. Thanks to their efforts, revenues from fines have grown at double-digit rates, ladling millions into city coffers.

That could pose a public relations problem for downtown San Jose as it struggles to compete with other shopping and entertainment areas like Santana Row. The enforcement, however, isn't limited to downtown. Residents of Willow Glen, whose houses dot low-crime, dead-end roads, recently started getting tickets on their cars for parking in the wrong direction. One neighbor says she couldn't imagine a less important violation. Anecdotes surface also about people getting tickets in the middle of the night, when no one's around to create a demand for the space and when parking officers should be tucked in their beds.

Welcome to cash-freaked San Jose, where even the charitable activities of competitive law enforcement agencies remain fair game for boosting General Fund revenue.

"As a matter of fact," boasts one source at the Department of Transportation, who requested anonymity, "we're the only department that's hiring.

"We're working 24/7. We're working graveyard shifts--and Sundays."

Why?

"Why else?"

"Money."

Season's Meters

"They're very aggressive," notes Ana George, who owns a restaurant downtown. "I get tickets left and right."

George opened Mucho's on Santa Clara Street 11 years ago. She says she runs into trouble trying to park close enough to her restaurant to load in supplies. So, she sucks it up and pays roughly $200 in parking tickets a year, she estimates.

"They have to make some money for the city, I understand," she concedes. "But you know, it takes people away from downtown. They come in for a $5 burrito, and they end up paying $20 for a ticket. ... They're very aggressive."

Scott Knies, president of the Downtown Association, complains about the increasing army of parking control officers. Their creeping tide, he asserts, adds to a parking landscape that's already organically unfriendly.

"You have a small number of meters to begin with," says an exasperated Knies, "and how many parking patrol officers do we have? They're on the clock all the time."

Knies has received complaints about changes made to loading zones, enforcement of which, in most places, ends at the close of normal business hours. Without much notice, the city started removing the hours from some of the loading-zone signs. It now issues tickets for parking along yellow curbs long after the last delivery vehicles have returned to their garages.

"Some of them don't say anything," Knies says about the loading-zone signs. "We don't have uniform loading-zone hours. You have to really pay attention."

Gil Candelaria, the on-street parking manager for the Department of Transportation's downtown operations division, confirms that the city has supplemented its ticketing force. Within the last two years, the city created two new full-time parking officer positions and six new part-timers, for a total of 26. The revenue from citations, which pours into the General Fund, has likewise increased.

To put things in a larger, obvious and depressing context, the city badly needs dough. The budget office most recently foresaw an $85 million gap in next fiscal year's budget (starting July 1). The gouge may end up being as high as $120 million for San Jose if vehicle license fee revenues are not restored. That means service cuts and possible layoffs.

Lovely Rita

No one can blame the parking patrols, however, who are certainly holding up their end. Last year, officers produced $6.5 million, up from roughly $5.7 million the year before, Candelaria says. This year, the department predicts citations will generate about $7.1 million.

Candelaria says the expansion is because his department wants to do its job well. "We haven't changed our philosophy," he says. "We have not received any edicts from anybody to write any more citations."

But the city has absolutely taken steps that, in effect, increase the cash take from parking fines and fees. For one thing, as Candelaria puts it, "As you add officers, the number of [tickerts] goes up." For another, the city increased parking fees, reduced parking privileges and, according to Candelaria, may hike fines as well.

This year, parking at a metered space downtown costs $1 an hour. Last year, it cost 75 cents. Also last year, the city gave Mucho's owner Ana George two free parking spaces to go with her now 11-year-old business. This year, the city took those away. Now, the Department of Transportation is mulling over proposing citation increases for the council to consider levying.

"We're considering every option," says Candelaria.

That might be life in the big city, as anyone who has spent time in Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco can attest.

"Getting a ticket is part of the big city experience," sighs Knies.


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From the December 25-31, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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