Parking officers told to enforce rules selectively

February 25, 2010 7:22:53 PM PST
There are allegations of discrimination in Oakland over who gets parking tickets and who does not. Parking enforcement officers say they just could not keep quiet any longer about a policy they say forces them to issue tickets in some areas, and courtesy notices in others for the same infraction.

The city strongly denies these allegations.

Residents in East Oakland, however, say they feel picked on by the city. They say they have to park on the sidewalk to avoid blocking a narrow street, but parking officers claim they have been ordered to write $100 tickets while the same infraction up in the hills would likely get a free pass.

"We service the community and I don't think we should take advantage of them," said Shirnell Smith, an Oakland parking enforcement officer.

Smith claims she and others were ordered to give courtesy notices in affluent areas and costly tickets to the owners of illegally parked cars in poor neighborhoods.

"The people who are enforcing that area, they're mostly part-timers and have no rights to complain. So as a full-time employee, I feel that it is necessary that we should all band together to do what's right for the citizens of Oakland," said Smith.

Thursday, the union representing parking officers held a rally at City Hall. They claim the issue began last July with a memo, ordering courtesy notices only for parking on sidewalks and facing the wrong way in two beat areas that happen to be in the wealthy hills.

"I think we would have to call it selective enforcement and that would boil down to discrimination," said SEIU president Dwight McElroy.

"I don't think there's any merit to the argument whatsoever," said Oakland city administrator Dan Lindheim.

Lindheim strongly denies the disparate ticketing has anything to do with economic status, but that it is strictly a matter of street width.

On narrow streets, Lindheim claims the city is not ticketing, recognizing that legally parked cars would block access for emergency vehicles.

"If it's a wide street we ticket, if it's not a wide street, we don't ticket. What's the definition of a wide street? It's got a line on it," said Lindheim.

ABC7 asked if the wider streets exist in the lower income neighborhoods.

"There are definitely wider streets in poorer neighborhoods. There are wider streets all over the place," said Lindheim.

But those who live on narrow streets in less affluent areas say they are still getting tickets.

"I don't think it's fair they come to our neighborhood, target our neighborhoods, and enforce the law here and not do it everywhere," said Donna Hurst, an East Oakland resident.

Parking officers say part-time employees with no union protection have actually been fired for complaining about this issue. The city denies that; they say what is really going on here is the union is only bringing it to light now because they're upset about the city's plan to cut their overtime benefits.


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