Along with a growing number of complaints about the parking changes implemented by the city council, many Oakland residents are also reporting numerous citations that they say are virtually impossible to appeal. In light of the more aggressive rules, many of these frustrated drivers worry that the inability to appeal citations is another city tool for closing the budget gap.
Michele Bloom received a ticket at 5464 College Avenue in April for parking after the meter had expired. Her husband, Russell Bloom, however, had evidence that his wife could not have violated the code: The citation was issued at 12:37 p.m., and Bloom had a receipt showing that his wife purchased one hour at 12:00 p.m. But his first appeal, after the city's "complete and careful review" of the facts and evidence, was denied a month later.
So Bloom, a lawyer, contacted the mayor's office, the city administrator, and the parking department to express his outrage — but got no response. He finally reached the mayor's assistant and explained the situation. Within ten minutes he got a call from Parking Director Noel Pinto advising that Bloom request an in-person hearing. He wanted an immediate explanation on how his appeal could have possibly been denied, but he was told that they have no comment on the first denail and he can only request a hearing.
Months later, he finally went before an administrative judge, who ruled that the ticket was falsely issued. "But they were putting the burden of labor on the victim," he complained. Bloom estimates that he spent forty hours dealing with the ticket — time he pointed out that most residents would not devote for a mere $45.
Karin Seritis, who works for Caltrans on Grand Avenue in Oakland, received a ticket in May for parking in a two-hour zone for more than two hours. She said she always keeps track of her car and had moved it from 23rd Street, where it sat for only 41 minutes, to Waverly Street, where it was parked for a little less than two hours. The citation, however, said that she had been parked on Waverly for more than two hours, but Seritis claimed that the parking log's initial time was incorrect. The day after the ticket was issued, she said she contested it on the phone to a parking enforcement supervisor, who responded that according to the meter maid's log, the car was parked at the intersection of 23rd and Waverly so "this is a good ticket." Essentially, the parking department claimed that she had not ever moved her car.
She took an entire day off of work to fight it in person, but she was denied in the first appeal. She fought a second appeal and lost because the city claimed she did not have enough evidence that she had actually moved her car. "It was basically guilty until proven innocent," she said.
Seritis is not alone in her outrage. At least three of her co-workers at Caltrans complain of similar tickets. Jasjeet Sikand said that for the last two years he has worked in the area and paid several justified tickets in violation of the two-hour limit. He said he has also fought in vain against two tickets that were incorrectly issued. One time he got a two-hour violation citation at a broken meter where he said he was parked for only an hour. He sent an e-mail appeal and never heard back. When he went to fight in person with a dated hard copy of the e-mail, he said he was told that their computer system was down at the time he sent the e-mail and they "typically deny first appeals anyway." He requested a hearing but first had to pay $50. The ticket was issued in January, and he still hasn't heard back about a court date.
Meanwhile, Caltrans employee Adolph Wyrick said he got a justified ticket on Grand Avenue for remaining too long in a space. The following day he paid the $35 fine. Nearly a year later, however, he received a letter saying he had never paid for the ticket and now owed close to $200 in late fees. When he called, the department said that they had just — a day earlier — received his $35 check. He didn't have the time or energy to fight it, so he shoveled out the full amount.
In September, Caltrans employee Roberta Littlefield received a notice in the mail that she was late paying a ticket for a violation for parking on Valdez Street. However, Littlefield said that she never even received the ticket on her car in the first place. In addition, she received three tickets this year for parking on Valdez — where she claims there is unclear signage. Only one of her appeals was granted, but even for the ticket that was voided, she said it still seems unclear if and when she will get her money back. After taking a 15 percent pay cut as a state employee, she said she no longer can afford this. "I could use that money," she said. "But once they've got your money, they are not gonna let it go."
Parking director Pinto has a lot to say in defense of these kinds of grievances. Firstly, there is no such thing as an automatic appeal, he said. For example, sampling four recent business days, he said that his department voided 135 citations. A typical four-day period includes a total of 5,700 citations.
Pinto admits that mistakes can happen, most likely with handwritten citations that he is currently working to replace with an electronic system. But he said his department is efficient at correcting such mistakes. He said there can legally be discrepancies between the first appeal and second appeal in-person hearing because the independent court has the jurisdiction to make an entirely different ruling. "There are a handful of people — who I am willing to bet are repeat offenders — who say these things just to blast the city," he said.
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