Waging war on illegal placards

Drivers caught illegally using disabled parking placards in The City will face stiffer penalties after a state law takes effect Jan. 1 that allows local agencies to hike fees for the misuse.

Fed up with rampant placard abuse in California, the state recently passed a new law that allows localities to hike fines for offenders up to $1,000 — 10 times higher than the current fine in The City.

Assembly Bill 144 was authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, who used rampant misuse of disabled parking placards in The City as the platform to address the California-wide problem. Between September 2007 and September 2008, 1,234 false placards were confiscated in San Francisco, Ma said.

Placard holders are allowed to park for free in disabled parking zones as well as in metered spaces. Illegal use steals spaces from people who truly need them. It also hurts Muni, which uses parking revenue for transit operations, according to city officials.

City officials don’t plan on waiting very long to establish higher fines for the illegal use of disability placards. On Jan. 5, the directors for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which enforces parking in The City, will consider adopting fines of up to $825 for violations.

“We appreciate the state action to help combat disabled placard abuse, which makes it harder for people with disabilities to find parking and costs The City money,” SFMTA spokesman Judson True said.

The agency will also consider a 10 percent hike on the penalty amounts for several disabled parking violations, including parking in blue zones without a placard, blocking access to blue zones and parking too close to wheelchair ramps.

There are more than 52,000 placards in The City, about one for every 15 residents, according to the SFMTA. That’s twice the number of metered spaces in San Francisco.

A 2007 city controller report found that cars with placards parked at metered spots account for around $15 million in lost revenue.

Violations also cut down on parking turnover, which hurts local businesses, according to city officials.

The new law is expected to increase the number of placard abusers who are caught in the act, as it allows parking control officers to cite violators where previously only police officers could.

Extra revenue from increasing fines and enforcement would provide some relief for the cash-strapped SFMTA, which is facing another multimillion-dollar deficit next fiscal year.

Disability placards have been sold on Craigslist for $250 a pop, including fake placards that are difficult to differentiate from real ones, Ma has said.


More new laws on the books

Among new legislation taking effect Jan. 1:

‘Move over’ laws
SB 159 requires motorists to slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle or tow truck displaying emergency lights on the highway; SB 240 expands that rule to include Caltrans vehicles with flashing lights.

Ammunition sales
AB 962 requires gun sellers to record sales of ammunition; requires the fingerprinting and identification of purchaser.

Homeowners’ equity
AB 1046 increases the protection of homeowner equity from creditors by $25,000.

Bridge funding
AB 798 creates the California Transportation Financing Authority, which will oversee funding for an increase in new transportation projects and improvement projects through the issuance of revenue bonds. As a result, tolls are expected to increase to help pay for retrofit projects.

AB 1953 makes it illegal in California to sell faucets containing more than one-quarter of 1 percent of lead. The legal limit was formerly 8 percent.

Megan’s Law extension
SB 1187 extends the Internet publishing requirement pursuant to Megan’s Law for persons convicted of felony child pornography.

DUI offenders
SB 598 gives repeat DUI offenders the opportunity to apply for restricted driver's licenses with an ignition interlock device placed on their vehicle.

Domestic violence
AB 532 allows police to obtain a search warrant to seize guns or other deadly weapons from within a house after a report of domestic violence or mental health incident.

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