Being Robbed in Downtown Sacramento

Parking meter receipt. Photo: Steve Topper.
parking enforcement vehicle

This is the person more likely to rob you than the armed gunman. Photo: Flickr/pecanpieguy

If you’re in downtown Sacramento shopping or having a meal, the most dangerous person you might encounter isn’t the guy in the hoodie carrying a gun.

No, it’s the man or woman roaming the streets in this dreaded three-wheel vehicle.

It’s just that the person in the vehicle robs you with a hand-held device and a pen of some sort. And he or she doesn’t take your money immediately. The actual theft occurs some time later.

By now you realize I’m writing about that overly zealous group of city employees from the parking enforcement division – the folks who simply love handing out parking tickets.

What I find particularly bothersome is the schizophrenia at work here.

On one hand, the folks running this city and the downtown merchants would love to have more area residents come downtown to shop, eat, and visit the many attractions and events. After all, it’s important that Sacramento have a vibrant downtown or central city.

On the other hand, the free-spending folks running this city have taken an aggressive approach to hunting down and ticketing these very same residents for various parking infractions – the most lucrative being expired parking meters and parking in handicap zones.

2 hour parking sign and meter

2 hour parking sign and meter. Photo: Steve Topper.

Oh sure, these city leaders mistakenly believe that Sacramento has a robust public transportation system that should be used to travel downtown. I’m not sure how they know this as I seriously doubt any of them use it routinely.

Before moving here from Chicago over 25 years ago, I was fortunate to avail myself of a world-class public transportation system on a daily basis. What we have in Sacramento pales by comparison. In fact, it barely qualifies as public transportation.

As I see it, the folks running the city want to have it both ways – come downtown to spend your money and while you’re doing so, we’ll try and extract as much money in parking fees as possible.

Is it any wonder most people would prefer shopping and eating at the malls where there are acres of free parking?

I’m sure the folks in charge would lecture me that aggressive enforcement of the myriad parking rules downtown is necessary to keep downtown workers from parking on the streets all day long. The problem with this argument is that it punishes the many for the sins of the few. Surely there must be some way to identify the cars and trucks of downtown workers and tow them once or twice and the problem would be solved. How about mandating that anyone working downtown must have a vehicle window sticker identifying them as downtown workers? Or better yet, create and issue a downtown parking sticker costing $2,000 a year that gives the holder the right to park on the street during working hours. This will generate some revenue.

Another possible solution which I’ve described several times to my wife is the idea of moving every state, city, and country worker out of the downtown area and into a huge government park located near the airport. There would be plenty of free parking for everyone. And we could return downtown to the residents of Sacramento.

Of course the chances of this happening are about the same as Sacramento becoming a world-class city.

Today, the fine for a meter violation is $30 plus the $12.50 surcharge demanded by our debt-ridden state government. That’s onerous – to say the least.

And, it’s enough to prevent many residents from coming downtown after receiving one or two citations.

By the way, the city currently lists 37 different parking infractions on its website here. The cheapest fine is the $30 expired meter fine with the most expensive being the $445 blue zone reserved for disabled people. I could write an entire article about the massive abuse with the handicap placards hanging in car and truck windshields.

disabled parking

Disabled parking. Photo: Steve Topper.

At some point in time, years ago, the parking fine morphed from being a simple, low-cost, reminder that it is important to “feed the meter” to become a major income generator for the city. Once this happened, the city unleashed a fleet of parking enforcement vehicles to roam the streets looking for revenue opportunities.

city parking credit machine

Parking Receipt dispenser which accepts credit cards. Photo: Steve Topper.

On a positive note, the city has taken steps to make it easier to “pay to park” by eliminating the need to carry a bucket of quarters in your vehicle at all times – something my spouse and I still do. On some streets you can search to see if a parking receipt machine is available. If so, you can buy a receipt and paste it to your street-side window.

Merchants love these machines as they no longer have to be pestered by people needing quarters for the hungry meters.

I’m sure the presence of these dispensing machines has saved many a resident from getting a parking ticket due to lack of quarters. Still, the tendency is to overpay for the time purchased as one never really knows how long lunch or dinner will take…or how long the shopping trip or concert will last.

Almost every Saturday evening my wife and I head downtown to the R Street corridor to have dinner. We plan on arriving between five and five-thirty so we can feed the meter to last just after 6:00 pm. The corridor is usually extremely busy with young people visiting the Ace of Spades and the older crowd sitting outside the R15 Bar.

And rarely does a Saturday pass that I don’t spot one of the roving parking enforcement vehicles stalking the streets in the area just before the 6:00 cut-off time. I see this as a predatory act on the part of the city government. Sucker the residents downtown to shop, eat, and enjoy entertainment and then prowl the streets right up to 6:00 pm looking for expired meters so tickets can be issued.

Personally, I view this as a form of robbery.

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