Hot ticket

Higher fines, more tickets, after-hours patrol, new officers—has parking enforcement in the central city gone too far?

They’re mounting. Those white envelopes of frustration found tucked under windshields of Sacramento’s parking offenders are on the rise.

Revenue collected by the city of Sacramento Parking Department has increased by nearly 30 percent over the past five years. The number of citations issued has risen by 16.9 percent in that same time. City officials say the ramped up enforcement is in response to requests, but businesses and residents say the new strategy is too much.

In fiscal year 2009-10, the city collected nearly $8.5 million in revenue from parking citations, up nearly $2 million over the past five years, according to records from the city. Citations issued have climbed from 201,196 in 2005-06 to 235,196 in 2009-10.

The city explains that the increase in citations is due to a growth in the number of parking-enforcement officers, from 35 officers to 51, as a response to repeated requests from businesses and neighborhoods.

The increase in revenue collected stems from the boost in citations, as well as the rising fees associated with those citations.

In 2008, the city added a $5 increase to parking citations. The city conducts a study every three years to stay competitive with similar markets and, additionally, parking citations have risen another $12 over the past two years due to pass-through fee increases from the state government.

“We don’t have quotas,” explained Linda Tucker, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Transportation. “We don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s a recession, we’re going to add X number of officers. It is a strategic decision based on services.”

Tucker busts the notion that the city is using revenue from parking citations to help boost its general budget. She said parking revenue only represents approximately 1.5 percent of the general fund. “There is no way to balance the budget on the backs of parking scofflaws,” she noted. “It’s such a small portion, and that has never been the impetus for increasing enforcement in certain areas.”

Tucker said the enforcement and additional positions were direct results of requests for more services from residents or businesses.

But Rob Kerth, executive director of the Midtown Business Association, says parking enforcement has gone too far.

“We do need parking enforcement in Midtown, but it is getting carried away—well past the point of helping businesses or residents,” Kerth said. “That said, it is bad governance to ask public servants not to enforce ordinances we don’t like. Instead, it is time to overhaul the parking regulations.”

The number of metered spaces has grown by 200 since 2005, and there are now 5,322 metered spots in the central city. Furthermore, the city increased last May the hours of parking enforcement in residential-permit zones in Midtown up until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.

“We have asked for greater nighttime enforcement in residential areas,” Kerth said. “This was done at the request of neighborhood leaders and with the support of the business owners. Our goal is to bring commercial visitor parking back into the commercial areas, expecting that this will reduce nighttime noise in the residential areas.”

Kerth said that parking is consistently one of the top concerns of business owners in Midtown and the source of their greatest frustrations.

“The MBA is actively working with the city to investigate the formation of a parking management district to improve parking in Midtown,” Kerth said. “The science of parking has made strides in recent years, and it is time for Midtown to update.”

For now, the frustrations continue for Sacramento residents responsible for paying the increased fines.

“Nobody likes to get a parking ticket, especially during tough times like this,” Tucker said. “But you have a choice: Pay the meter or don’t park and overstay your stay, or park illegally. If you are going to do something for more than in hour in the downtown area, consider the garages. Parking on the street is meant to turn over, pure and simple.”