Police gain upper hand in chalk war

Belmont police are claiming victory in an ongoing “chalk war” they say has been brewing between law enforcement and drivers.

Police said they have been catching numerous city drivers wiping off chalk marks that parking enforcement officers smear on car tires to determine parking violators. If a chalk mark is still on the car two hours later in a two-hour parking zone, officers ticket the vehicle.

Some savvy parkers have figured out this strategy and battled back. Police said drivers periodically wipe the chalk marks off cars to avoid $25 fines. That act has technically been legal, however, so police say they have been unable to fight back even when they catch the chalk mark removers red-handed.

“People are going down there and wiping the marks away and there’s nothing we can do about it,” police Lt. Patrick Halleran said. “It’s frustrating.”

That all changed Tuesday when police, hoping to end the chalk war once and for all, pushed a new ordinance through the City Council making it illegal, punishable by a $100 fine, to wipe off the chalk marks. Under the law, if the chalk remover is acting under the discretion of an employer then that person may be held liable, as well.

Capt. Dan DeSmidt, in proposing the ordinance, called the problem growing and said it occurs throughout the city but is most prevalent in the Old County Road and Villa Avenue areas near auto shops. Parking limits allow residents and businesses to share on-street parking, and prevent motorists from using the spaces for vehicle storage or repair, he said.

The law is sure to cause some confusion for drivers who find clever ways to avoid parking fines. Council-
member Coralin Feierbach, for one, said she was not sure whether it was legal to wipe off the chalk marks until the issue arose recently and that most residents probably do not fully understand the issue, either.

“I’m sure we’ve all done that in one way or the other, or moved the car,” Feierbach said. “When you go to do that, you say [to yourself], ‘Is it legal or isn’t it?’”

Other cities, such as San Carlos and Burlingame, already have such anti-chalk wiping ordinances. Burlingame police Capt. Mike Matteucci said it allows his department to do their jobs more easily because they know if they catch someone wiping off the chalk, they can actually do something about it.

“It seems as though it’s working,” Matteucci said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

Belmont ‘chalk war’ by the numbers

$25: Fine for violating parking time limit
$100: New fine for wiping off chalk marks
3: Community service officers enforcing parking rules
1: Three-wheeled parking vehicle used to chalk tires
30: Days after likely Sept. 9 ordinance adoption that police can begin enforcement
Source: Belmont Police Department

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