Parking violators don’t pay up

One driver has accrued $11,000 in Vancouver fines since last year

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter

Published:

 

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Day after day, the 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche pickup is parked in a prime spot in downtown Vancouver.

And day after day, the Chevy gets a parking ticket.

Last year, the Chevy racked up 233 tickets and $8,270 in fines for expired meters and parking off-street in unauthorized lots. As of July 24, the Chevy had received another 201 tickets and $3,322 in fines. Laid end to end, the 433 tickets would span a football field.

According to the city, only one of the 434 tickets the Chevy’s owner has amassed since the beginning of 2014 has been paid. (The city, the Washington Department of Licensing and the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles declined to name the driver, citing privacy laws.) The rest have been sent to collections.

Despite accruing more than $11,000 in parking fines, the Chevy continues to park downtown, and there’s nothing in city code that provides the authority to tow it. The Chevy is not alone. Last year, about one in six parking tickets went unpaid and was sent to collections, and a loophole allows Oregon drivers to escape paying parking tickets — ever.

That infuriates downtown Vancouver resident Roy Nelson, 69. He’s been attending Vancouver Parking Advisory Committee meetings all year, trying to get the city to take action against parking scofflaws.

Vancouver, Nelson said, should adopt a “boot-and-tow” program like other cities. That’s where a wheel-immobilizing device called a boot is locked onto the tires of vehicles owned by drivers who rack up unpaid tickets. If the driver doesn’t pay up after getting “booted,” the city tows and impounds the vehicle. For Nelson, who lives in Smith Tower and pays for parking, it’s about fairness to other drivers and business owners, and it’s about ensuring the city collects fines owed.

“It kind of gripes us,” he said. “Seattle wouldn’t mess around with it, so why does Vancouver let it go on? … There’s something haywire.”

Monday, City Manager Eric Holmes said such deliberate violation of the city’s parking codes was “unacceptable.”

“Fortunately, it is a rare circumstance,” Holmes stated in an email. “The city is pursuing these violators to the full extent of our current parking ordinance.”

$100,000 unpaid

The Chevy’s owner is not the only local driver who ignores parking tickets. In 2014, the city issued 20,608 parking citations. Of those, 2,929 unpaid tickets amounting to $100,000 were sent to collections, according to city records. This year as of July 24, the city has issued 12,906 parking citations. Ticket fines range from $8 (for incorrect display of payment receipt) to $450 (for parking in a space reserved for people with disabilities).

The city’s Parking Services maintains downtown parking meters, routinely patrols downtown and investigates parking complaints citywide. Parking rules are intended to encourage parking turnover so business patrons have the most convenient parking spaces, City Parking Services Manager Mike Merrill said.

The city refers unpaid parking tickets to a collections agency. Three or more unpaid tickets are reported to the Washington State Department of Licensing, which can deny vehicle registration and suspend driver’s licenses for unpaid parking tickets.

However, that’s of no help when it comes to the Chevy Avalanche, which is registered in Oregon. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t take action against delinquent tickets, Oregon DMV spokesman David House said.

Now aware of the Chevy’s hundreds of unpaid parking tickets, the city Finance Department has authorized its contracted collections agency, Professional Credit Service, to seek a court judgment placing a lien on the owner’s property, city Treasurer Carrie Lewellen said Tuesday. However, without a change to city code, nothing prevents the motorist from continuing to flout parking laws, Lewellen acknowledged.

Internship project

In response to Nelson’s questions to the parking committee, the city this summer hired a student intern to research how other cities pursue parking ticket scofflaws. Olympia, for instance, started a boot-and-tow program about 10 years ago in which vehicles with eight or more unpaid citations are booted. The drivers are instructed to pay the fines within 48 hours or their car will be impounded. The city automatically impounds vehicles with 12 or more unpaid tickets 60 days’ delinquent.

Merrill said he’s given the staff’s findings to the Finance Office to see if a boot-and-tow program might be an effective way for the city to recover the delinquent ticket fines. He’s reserving judgment on whether the city needs such a program until he sees the cost-benefit analysis, he said. Perhaps by October the parking committee will be ready to make a recommendation to the city council, he said.

“This particular customer could just be an outlier,” he said, referring to the Chevy owner. “That’s one of the things we’re going to have to ask ourselves. Is it worth implementing a system over a single customer who doesn’t pay?”

Although parking committee chairwoman Leah Jackson said she “believes the committee is concerned” and it’s “moving forward in the process,” she declined to comment further.

“I will not give a personal opinion or speak for the committee,” Jackson said.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said nobody should get a free pass when it comes to paying parking tickets. He’s gotten at least 20 parking tickets and has paid them all, he said.

“Clearly, this individual is just completely disregarding our local laws, and we’ve got to figure out how to hold them accountable for what they’re doing,” Leavitt said. “I look forward to a recommendation from the parking advisory committee for the council to consider on how we can most effectively do just that.”