Tony Lopez Investigates: Parking By Numbers

By Tony Lopez and Executive Producer Dave Manoucheri

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) —   You pull in, pay the meter, and probably pray that you get back before you get that little slip of paper under your windshield wiper.   But is there more to that simple fact of city parking?  When people started asking if the city is writing more and more tickets in order to make money we decided it was time to crunch the numbers.

They’re not hard to spot.  The little cars, barely the size of a parking officer and their equipment, drive around the city and Midtown with a big orange sign on the back saying “vehicle makes frequent stops.”  They did make frequent stops when we followed.  We sent photographers out into the city to follow parking enforcement officers throughout a week’s time.  In that time frame, some slammed doors in our faces, others hid behind trees, and some simply did their jobs. 

We can’t blame them for being camera shy.  These officers are feeling the heat now more than ever.

“The phrase we’ve coined is predatory parking enforcement,” says Midtown business owner Eric Heffel and he has more than a few examples of what you might call “meter maids gone wild.”  He has the typical experiences, like expired meters.  Heffel says those don’t bother him.  What do, he says, are ones he says border the ridiculous.  Things like:

            –  a parking attendant running after the car to give him a ticket before he left his parking spot.

            –  having a for sale sign on his car (he got that ticket twice)

            –  An employee who had their mirror hanging an inch over the white parking spot line

            –  being 1 minute expired in a non-meter zone.

“I had another employee who was given a ticket for riding her bicycle the wrong way on the street for a short time,” Heffel says.  “I consider that predatory.”

The head of the city’s parking enforcement division, Howard Chan, says he doesn’t believe that’s typical.

“Do we have employees that might be a little more aggressive?  Probably,” says Chan.  “We don’t condone it and in fact we train people not to write those types of citations.”

The one claim he is adamant is false is that the city is looking to make money by writing more parking tickets.

“This is my department and my division here and that’s not the directive,” he says.

CBS13 wanted to know if the hard numbers backed that up.  We asked the city for the details on the city’s parking tickets.  What we got was 667,702 raw parking tickets.  The city gave us every ticket from January 1st, 2008 through December 31st, 2010.  We sifted through all that data and found that the hard numbers tend to back Chan’s statement.

We did find some unusual quirks.

The majority of the tickets handed out in Sacramento happened in the morning, specifically in the 11am hour.

The busiest day, meaning the day of the week you’re most likely to get a ticket?  Wednesday, a fact Howard Chan found confounding. 

“The Wednesday one is pretty interesting.  It’s not like I get to the roll call and say, “okay, guys, it’s Wednesday, let’s go get ’em!”

Chan says there are fewer tickets in residential areas, and the numbers back that up.  Why?  Simply because they don’t usually have officers in those residential areas.  That is, unless someone complains.  Then the whole block is under the watchful eye of a meter maid, at least for a short time.

As for any increase in tickets, there was a jump from 2008 to 2009.  In ’08, the city wrote 216,324 tickets.  The number rose the next year.  they wrote 239,465 in 2009.  However, the number of tickets written by Sacramento Parking Enforcement Officers last year was down.  They wrote 211,913 in 2010.

Still, Eric Heffel says the city confirmed to him that within the 9-block radius of his yogurt shop, YogurtAgogo, on 18th and L, there’s been a 10% jump.  More businesses are jumping on that claim, saying more tickets means fewer customers.

“I’m getting pretty regular complaints about that,” says Rob Kerth, head of the Midtown Business Association.  “All of them say it’s affecting their business.”  But he does say some of that is because of the parking rules themselves.

“The rules in midtown are confusing and if you’re not a parking expert, they seem arbitrary and random,” says Kerth.

Eric Heffel has a stronger view: “you’re literally driving people out of the city.”

More specifically, Rob Kerth claims that Midtown, one of the city’s largest revenue sources for sales tax revenue is more like the “goose that lays the golden egg.”  If that’s the case, though, he has a message for city leaders: “don’t expect the eggs if you’re gonna beat the goose.”

Howard Chan says that revenue isn’t the underlying issue.

“It’s not,” he says adamantly, “the fact that we do generate revenue for the city is almost secondary..we’re here to provide a service.”

City officials are also supposed to provide answers.  CBS13 obtained emails sent to Heffel by Mayor Kevin Johnson’s advisor, R.E. Graswich.  In them, Graswich tells Eric: “with the city facing a 35 million dollar deficit this coming fiscal year..departments have been asked to find as much revenue as legally possible.”

There’s more.  Graswich says: “if you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.”

Those words now echo in Eric Heffel’s mind.  He won’t drive his car to work, he rides his bike, rain or shine, and it was raining hard the day we met him. 

“I am afraid to drive my car around midtown,” he says.

R.E. Graswich later added that if he gave the implication that the parking department was asked to write more tickets that it was “all me,” and that there was no standing order the city write more tickets. 

More from Tony Lopez
  • taxi driver

    this story is 100% right! i am a taxi river in in city of sacramento and yes they target us and the public they will wait to give u a ticket this is not the way to run a city or help small buinesess 450 taxi’s in sac. city and we can only park in 25 taxi zone parking. we pay for the meter,the permit to work in city,tax’s and we cant park in any meter in all of downtown starting today.. this is getting really bad. $4.00 gallon of gas and they want us to keep driving all day and not park. this is not a way to make buinesess grow this is a way to close a buinesess. this city is going the wrong way i cant belive i cant park in downtown!!! this is where my work is and my food for my kids.

    • Rita the meter maid

      Taxi driver I guess its ok for you to pull out whenever u please and cut people off and sit at meters all day and not pay then make people get into your cab cause you have some stupid number system nobody cares about

      • #1 Parking Scoflaw

        Rita, you are about the lowest of the low. Being homeless is more aspiring than doing your job. . I hope your lil yellow ticketmobile catches fire with you in it. Dean Fujimoto is about as bright as a cave. His morons that work alongside him are more intelligent. He should go work for a predator co like AT&T. Not in my fair city. Sac local govt is the worst in the country. Biting heavily the hand that ffeds it. Throw these bums curbside for the next election! Wake Up!

      • taxi driver

        ur job as a meter maid is to not to enforce taxi pulling out or cuting people off i think u should check ur job duties and some taxi driver’s like me pay not all and make people get in my cab or not thats not ur job to watch over that so u should stay out of peoples independent jobs and worry about targeting people that u meter maids love to do!!! why dont u give us 450 spots to park u issued 450 cab lic.

      • taxi driver

        ur job is not to enforce taxi pulling out or in. i think u dont know ur job. all u do is target peoples cars and ur job is not hard u meter maids are rude tooo
        and sitting at meters thats are job to wait for a fare and yes i do pay. u know what u meter maids are doing u are corrupt. u

  • Daniel Stein

    The parking situation in Midtown is the MAIN reason I tend to avoid patronizing the businesses there. It’s unfortunate, because there are a LOT of excellent shops, restaurants, and bars there.

    Graswich’s comments reinforces the typical perception of government employees – callous and apathetic.

    • #1 Parking Scoflaw

      Graswich is an infidel. I don’t know why he has a job in Sacramento at all. I guess corruption is everywhere. Why would the 9misguided) Mayor even hire him. Most citizens hate his guts. Answer: Because Mayor Johnson is not qualified to be Mayor. Nuff said!

    • Rita the meter maid

      stop crying learn read parking signs its your OWN fault you dont go to midtown not meter maids!

  • Retired old Guy

    Being a parking enforcement officer has got to be the most thankless job in the city. No one is ever happy to see you. On o\ccassion you might want to see a police officer but there is never a time when a parking officer is there bringing good news. The very sight of them enrages normal, peaceloving people. I think these people brainstorm ways to make people mad. It’s a game of tag or hide and seek—both childhood games that most people outgrow way before adulthood. I’m sure they practice in front of a mirror growling and snarling and go home after their shift and kick the dog. I think they should find a job where they could smile and be happy and try to make other people happy. I pity these individuals.

    • Rita the meter maid

      all that sounds nice I think everyone would love a job that makes them smile but this is the REAL world. And if they did smile someone would complain on them. I think these guys are doing a job a job that not everyone could do. and why would they need to go home and kick there dog there not getting parking tickets.

  • mitch

    My car was ticket with a DP in the window while at a doctors appointment. Oh, there was no parking meters or not a no parking sign to be seen in the area. I no go into Sac city unless absolutely nessecary.

  • jayjayjj71

    I got a ticket in lot X, and I have a permit! The problem is that the enforcement officers are too lazy to look for a permit hanging from your rear-view mirror. If it doesnt slap them in the face they slap a ticket on your windsheild. I appealed it, and guess what? REJECTED! Its totally a racket.

    • Rita the meter maid

      If u really had a permit up for x lot they would have taken back your ticket I do it all the time. And it would be kinda hard for anyone to see hang tags through sun visor

  • Sac is sinking

    Downtown is the worst area to do any business.
    Sacramento does not get any of my business anymore.
    Even for something as simple as lunch, I will drive to West Sacramento rather than give the city one cent of tax revenue.
    It may hurt small business but, as long as Sacramento uses predatory tactics, I spend elsewhere.

  • cowtownferret

    I am sick of all the people that complain about tickets, ticket writers have a job to do, just like everyone else. It’s not there fault that they have to deal with rude people all day long. Yes there are some ticket writers that are more aggressive than others, but this is the real world. EVERY JOB HAS PEOPLE LIKE THAT!!! Heres a simple fix if you don’t want a ticket. Park in a paid parking lot. You’re off the street, so they can’t ticket for having a mirror over the white line, you never run out of meter time, and best of all, the meter maids never go in them except to check registration tabs and disabled placards. See isn’t that easy..

    • #1 Parking Scoflaw

      It isn’t that simple. You haven’t a clue. STFU Donny already.

  • Del Martin

    And every past and new businesses in midtown ALWAYS applies for a parking variance so they don’t have to provide their customers with parking because there is “plenty of street parking.” Ever notice all those nearby empty parking spaces in the lots? Do drivers think those are just for looks?

  • Milan

    I work near this yogurt shop and eat there too. Almost everytime we are on a smoke break we see people stop in the red curb zone just to run in and get a yogurt. In one case we saw a bus honking at a car that was parked in the bus zone. Guess where the driver was??? I’m not saying I like the meter people, but c’mon are tthey just supposed to ignore people parked in a bus stop zone??? Stop crying people and pay attention! And don’t blame the meter maids for your slow business,it’s the economy you idiots!

    • Milan

      To Parking Scoflaw: first off that is a big word for you (scoflaw) so good job! Second aren’t you that idiot from you tube? That stoner with lots of tickets who was walking around with a camera interviewing homless people and asking THEM about parking tickets? Once again, not the meter maids fault. Just move the vehicle!

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  • Keith T

    I was just doing research to see if there was a parking ordinance that prohibits backing into spots in Sacramento.

    Last evening I parked at 27th and I streets right across from the park. I had a late dinner with friends at Centro, and when I returned to my vehicle I had a parking ticket for “vehicle parked in wrong direction” and a $45 fine. This is crazy!

    I backed into the spot because it is tough to see cars turning on to 27th quickly enough to react. I tend to back in to spots as a general rule so that I don’t have to worry about not being able to see oncoming vehicles when I am leaving my parking spot. There are some studies out there that say backing into spots is arguably safer….but I am just dumbfounded because there are no signs or specific ordinances that say you cannot back into parking spots downtown. More specifically there are none posted in the area I parked that prohibit the practice. Do I have a legitimate gripe or should I just pay the fine and move on??

  • #1 Parking Scoflaw

    The city owes it’s visitors more than this. This is complete BS.

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