Illegal-placard enforcement hits wrong target

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For Dennis Daniel, simply going about life on a day-to-day basis can be a monumental challenge.

Daniel and his partner, David Bruner, both have painful AIDS-related illnesses, resulting in constant doctor visits, checkups and appointments — all while each lives on a fixed income of about $900 a month.

Any extra burdens to their finances can be brutal, which is why both men are up in arms about $1,250 in fines given to them recently for disability-placard abuse — a situation that has mirrored concerns in the disabled community that people are being unfairly targeted as part of a recent crackdown on scofflaws.

Daniel and Bruner’s fine resulted from a weekend trip to Southern California to see relatives. Daniel mistakenly used a placard that was once reported lost on a rental car. The couple has a car with disability plates, so a placard is rarely necessary, and they just finished unpacking a slew of possessions while moving into a new home.

While Daniel went to return the rental car, an officer from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was writing him up for possession of a stolen placard. Such a citation carries an $825 fine.

Daniel and Bruner also were fined for overstaying their parking meter, since placards normally allow motorists to park for free. And they had to pay towing fees.

Abuse of the placards has been a major issue at the state and local levels, reflected by the recent decision to increase fines for stolen or lost placards from $103 to $825.

The SFMTA, which is responsible for parking management in The City, has stepped up enforcement, with the agency reporting 689 citations for disability-placard abuse in the first quarter of this fiscal year — a 93.5 percent increase from the prior year.

The enforcement — which has been praised for curbing abuse — has raised concerns that people with legitimate disabilities could be unfairly targeted, according to Pi Ra, spokesman for the Senior Action Network.

“We certainly are against placard theft,” Ra said. “But the trick is enforcing that without punishing the people who truly need the placards.”

According to SFMTA spokeswoman Kristen Holland, the agency has a special detail created specifically to enforce disability-placard ordinances. Those officers follow protocols to check on the status of placards, while trying to remain sensitive to the needs of the disabled community.

Daniel and Bruner are currently protesting their citations — the SFMTA informed the two that they could do so without the fear of escalating costs — but they’ve already paid $350 for towing, and coming up with the time and energy to deal with the issue has been taxing.

“We understand the effort, but we’re concerned that the enforcement is just a revenue-generating effort,” Daniel said. “And it’s hurting the people who can least afford it.”

The decision to increase the fines for placard abuse came from state legislators, so the SFMTA isn’t the sole financial beneficiary. However, a 2007 city controller’s report found that San Francisco loses $15 million a year in placard abuse.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

 

Illegal parking permits

$825 Fine for using stolen, lost or altered disability placard
$103 Fine for offense before Jan. 1
689 Citations issued by SFMTA for disability-placard abuse in first quarter of this fiscal year
356 Citations issued in first quarter of previous fiscal year
93.5 Percent increase from year to year
$15 million Local revenue lost each year by disability-placard abuse

Source: SFMTA City Controller

 

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