On May 14 we attended a dinner in San Francisco. There was a valet parking stand, and when we arrived the valets were fairly backed up. We got behind several other cars and waited.

A few minutes later one of the city’s parking police came up behind the line. I asked one of the valets what was up, and he said they were out of parking spaces, though one might come open again if someone left. But, he said, the city was starting to ticket cars waiting in line.

We waited a minute, hoping someone might leave, and then pulled out and found our own parking.

A few weeks later I received a notice from the city, saying we owed money for illegal parking that evening. I filled out the protest form, noting that no one had handed us any ticket or put one on our windshield, and, moreover, that we’d moved the car. To repeat: The parking cop never handed us this phantom ticket, nor did he/she put on the windshield — and we were sitting right there.

Months went by, with two more letters saying the city was looking into the situation. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we got another letter saying the city parking department had decided we did owe for illegal parking. In other words, whatever its own employee — remember, the one who never actually handed us any paper — told them was considered true. Or maybe they just figured they could get away with going ahead with this bogus ticket.

Well, they did. As the city knows from the vehicle registration, I’m living a majority of the time in Arizona and can’t possibly take the time or justify the expense of challenging this ticket. So I’m sending the $100. I’m tempted to send a pissed-off letter to the mayor, but realize what an empty exercise that would be.

Instead, for the next few months, when we’re at our Bay Area place and thinking about going out to dinner or a movie, or going shopping, we’ll head somewhere other than San Francisco. At some point we’ll figure we’ve avoided paying enough city parking and other taxes/fees, etc. (including the local version of the multiplier effect — spending causing more economic activity), to have denied the San Francisco treasury somewhere in the vicinity of the $100 its parking police docked us. I regret that this means some restaurants and stores in the city won’t be getting our business during this stretch, but they’ve chosen to be where they are.

I assume this kind of thing happens all the time. Parking tickets are a fabulous source of revenue for a city like San Francisco. I also wonder if the people who govern the city realize how annoyed they make people with such tactics. I assume they don’t care. In the long run that’s poor policy.

10 thoughts on “Why We'll Avoid San Francisco for a While

  1. Oh Dan, don’t even get me started on this. I parked my scooter for 6 months on the sidewalk below our awning without a ticket (never mind that the meter maids were riding past every day). Then one day, out of the blue, I got a 100 dollar ticket for parking on the sidewalk. I contested it (Potrero Hill is full of motorcycles parked on the sidewalk in front of people’s houses), but of course had to pay it since it is in fact illegal to park on the sidewalk.
    But yeah, there is no logic to their madness…
    I empathize.

  2. Oh we don’t call that a parking ticket. We call that a parking TAX. ;o) I very much understand your frustration. You might consider writing or calling the City Supervisor of the district the dinner was located in to let them know that their district has lost your business.

    The enforcement officers are obligated to give you the ticket, but I suppose they could just claim that it had been blown away.

  3. The Washington Post ran a story about how the DC government is ramping up parking and traffic ticket enforcement to help with a budget shortfall. Soon after, I got a $100 ticket because one of the screws holding my front license plate in place had broken, and the plate was askew. That’s right. The plate was crooked. Nothing else. $100. Talk about a victimless crime.

  4. Of course, this kind of “taxation” is famous in Chicago as well, and probably goes back even to Roman times. The only way it changes is when the citizens and business owners start complaining in large numbers. As an out-of-towner myself, I realize that my complaint would be just so much waste paper to those in charge. I extend my commiseration.

  5. I hope you realize there’s a tone of driver entitlement to your post, Dan. If you’re able bodied and want to enjoy the City, you’re free to walk or use public transit.

  6. I heard that 25% of San Francisco’s city revenues come from parking tickets. They use this as a form of taxes. Many of my friends have gotten pointless tickets in SF. I’ll join Dan’s boycott of San Francisco. Whenever I can, I move meetings to other cities.

  7. Why drive, Dan? San Fran is an easy city to navigate without a car.

    And for what it’s worth, those of us who choose to live FULL-TIME in the city, your idling car isn’t doing us or our children any favors. Perhaps I, along with 500 of my friends, could drive our cars to your driveway in AZ and sit, engines idling.

    I don’t mean to be a jerk, but for some people, the city is a home, and the more livable it is for residents, the better, right?

  8. Dan

    Same thing happened to me a few years ago — with the exception that they actually put the ticket on my windshield. Being from out of town, and being unaware of the specifics of parking places in San Francisco, cut no ice with the powers that be. I also sent the hundred bucks.

    Leaves a bad taste.

  9. $50 ticket for being too late to fill the meter with another couple of quarters. What is so annoying about this is that the meter is active for 9 hours a day at $2/hour for a total maximum city revenue for that spot of $18. ($3.50/hr downtown equates to $31.50)

    If I forget my ticket at the garage they charge the daily max. If I forget to put quarters in the meter I think charging me the daily max is fairer than an egregious $50 penalty.

  10. The government has to fund those 500k fireman retirement packages so what else is a conscientious totalitarian to do.

    Tax the rich (anyone with a car that can still go shopping or dining).

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