San Jose’s parking enforcement officers are a notorious bunch. The cash-strapped city, not too proud to strip the couch cushions as it scavenges for revenue, has an army of these ticket punchers at the ready, ruthlessly hunting down the tardy. They seem to have a sixth sense for expiration. More than a few times this year I’ve found a ticket on my windshield, just several dozen seconds after the meter ran cold.
I suspect many of the men and women who make up the parking police are upstanding, hard-working individuals who simply found a steady way to pay the bills. But a part of me also worries a fraction of these adult hall monitors take some sadistic, passive-aggressive pleasure in their work; a snarling smile creeping up as they cruise away in three-wheel hatchbacks while some poor sap in the rear view shakes a fist to the sky.
That was me a couple weeks ago, when I returned to my parking spot to find a ticket on my dash, minutes before the meter should have been set to expire.
Like many people who live and work downtown, I hailed the recent installation of Smart Meters as a revelation. Rather than lugging a sack of currency around town, or refusing to throw a little change in the tip jar because I’d need that spare nickel down the line, parking now only required a quick slip of the credit card.
But my $2 fee for two hours was somehow brushed off the morning of July 14, when I was rewarded with a $40 fine near the corner of South First Street and San Salvador. A co-worker had the same experience in that area a day later. A week after that, I tried to park and found out that Smart Meter rates had bumped from a dollar to $2 an hour.
Unsure what to do, I contacted David Vossbrink, the city’s communications director, to find out what kind of program they’re running over there. How could a relatively law-abiding citizen like myself get a ticket after doing the right thing? Could other people have been falsely accused of exceeding their allotted time? When did San Jose all of a sudden start charging San Francisco parking rates? And why do meter maids file their teeth down to sharp points?
Here’s what Vossbrink had to say:
“I just got clarification from our parking gurus. It turns out that your meter was malfunctioning on July 14, and the Smart Meter shows that you did indeed pay your two bucks for two hours. At this point you certainly may, and should, appeal the citation—instructions are on the back of the ticket. Best to do it sooner than later so that you don't miss any deadline.
“If your colleague had the same experience with a citation at a Smart Meter before we implemented the new rates on July 22, then they should appeal too.
“We have not had any spike in complaints, citations, or malfunctions in our meter since we have deployed them. The good news is that you drew the short straw, rather than a whole bunch of people. The bad news is that it was you and not someone else.”
Actually, it’s probably a bit of good news I was the one who got an errant ticket. After reading this, others might realize they too received a ticket they didn’t deserve. Or maybe it will just give people a chance to vent.
As a tip for anyone who does come into human contact with San Jose's parking police, it’s worth noting that you cannot be ticketed if you get to your car before the ticket is placed on your windshield. Remind the person in the bicycle helmet of this when you get into your car and drive away, while they kick rocks before finding another unlucky victim.