Ticketed and ticked off

Councilman proposes a moratorium on parking enforcement as PARKatlanta ticket-writers run amok

It's nearly 10 p.m. on April 21 when the Inman Park Neighborhood Association's monthly meeting is finally adjourned. There was a controversial issue to address, one that managed to cast a pall over the palpable excitement surrounding the Inman Park Festival.

Since late last year, Inman Park residents and business owners have been the unlucky victims of a ticketing and booting blitzkrieg, and they've had enough. Residents complain that they've been ticketed by PARKatlanta – the agency outsourced last year to do the city's parking-ticket dirty work – as often as three times a day and as early as 8:30 a.m., when they claim parking enforcement isn't even necessary.

As one meeting attendee put it, "It's like they're saying, 'We're not here to help you, we're here to screw you.'"

Representatives from PARKatlanta and from Councilman Kwanza Hall's office were both in attendance, offering different solutions. PARKatlanta is suggesting more training for employees and more dialogue with the community. Hall, on the other hand, would like to do away with parking enforcement all together – at least for the time being.

Two days before the meeting, April 19, Hall introduced legislation that would impose a temporary moratorium on PARKatlanta's ability to ticket and boot illegally parked cars. The idea behind the proposal is that a breathing period of a month or two – although no specific time frame is set forth in the legislation – would give PARKatlanta an opportunity to familiarize itself with the public's expectations and vice versa.

Hall says PARKatlanta needs to better inform the public as to where they can and can't park – particularly in the nine neighborhoods where permitted, resident-only parking is now being enforced. He also says the public deserves time to adjust to newly unveiled no-parking signs and freshly installed meters.

"I've been to a number of meetings and I've gotten too many calls," Hall says. "I'm trying to get proper attention paid to this."

The arrival of PARKatlanta in September 2009, following a year of lax ticketing, was the making of a bureaucratic and infrastructural clusterhump. Thanks to poor planning and an anemic budget, the City of Atlanta was forced in mid-2008 to axe its staff of meter readers, and for well over a year, there was little to no parking enforcement on the streets of Atlanta. In the meantime, the city lost hundreds of thousands of dollars it might have collected each month in citations and boot-removal fees, not to mention $10 million in outstanding parking tickets that was all but written off.

As of late last year, though, it became abundantly clear that the era of free-for-all parking and laissez-faire enforcement had drawn to a close.

In September 2009, former Mayor Shirley Franklin and then-Public Works Commissioner Joseph Basista signed a seven-year, multi-million dollar contract with Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions, outsourcing the city's defunct system for parking enforcement. Duncan – operating here as PARKatlanta – took over all parking-related duties including meter maintenance and installation, signage upkeep, and, of course, ticketing and booting. (They also went to work on collecting the backlog of outstanding tickets; as of March, PARKatlanta had collected $900,000 of that sum.)

By year's end, yellow slips sporting $25 to $1,000 fines began appearing under the windshield wipers of unwitting Atlantans. Predictably, outrage ensued. Often, tickets were being doled out before signs were updated or protocol made clear. It seemed no one knew the parking rules except for PARKatlanta's own employees – although many on the receiving end of the agency's seemingly arbitrary methodology questioned whether even that was the case. More often than not, ticket-happy meter maids are enforcing laws against the very residents and business owners they were put in place to protect.

According to Hall, "What I'm hearing people say is, 'We don't mind paying, we just want to know what the rule is.'"

In the 1970s, city code established 2,500 "Managed Parking Spaces," the vast majority of which are in neighborhoods in Hall's district. Many of those neighborhoods, like Inman Park, sought to have certain streets approved for residential, permit-only parking, which would ensure that spaces would be available for residents even during peak hours of activity. In addition to Inman Park, there are eight other neighborhood parking districts: Ansley Park, Atkins Park, Home Park, Piedmont Heights, Vine City, Virginia-Highland, Midtown and Summerhill.

The program worked well in Inman Park – homeowner George Gary says that, by and large, neighbors were able to self-enforce with help from the police – until PARKatlanta became the new sheriff in town.

"Before, tickets weren't written unless we called," says Gary. "Now parking is arbitrarily and punitively enforced, and residents are being ticketed until they get their permit renewed."

If there's any consolation for the residents of Inman Park, it's the agency's willingness to hear them out. Anderson Moore, PARKatlanta's program director, was in attendance at the April IPNA meeting to address concerns about parking enforcement.

"The problems stemmed from poor communication of how it works and is managed," Moore offered. "Our objective is to serve residents." That comment provoked an incredulous laugh from more than one attendee. To prove his mettle, Moore accepted from Gary a stack of more than 20 parking tickets he agreed to "take care of" for the residents of Inman Park, who joined in a brief, restrained round of applause.

Moore went on to pledge that PARKatlanta's enforcement staff will be retrained, that tickets written in error will be thrown out, and that parking patrols will run according to a schedule that's been vetted by Inman Park's residents. (He added that the same will be done in other neighborhoods.) "I want to clearly state," said Moore, "that we want to be an asset rather than a hindrance."

If Inman Park residents are unconvinced that Moore and PARKatlanta will make good on their promises, local chef and rabble rouser Paul Luna is happy to confirm that their skepticism is warranted. The area of downtown that's home to Luna's new restaurant, Lunacy Black Market, was among the first to be targeted by PARKatlanta. After Luna's patrons and neighbors were relentlessly ticketed, he also was promised the chance to work with the agency to agree on enforcement times. But according to Luna, that never happened.

"It's bullshit," he says. "The person who went to Inman Park is giving the same bullshit they gave us."

Luna has been a vocal PARKatlanta critic, organizing protests at City Hall and consulting with an attorney about the legality of the agency's operations. In his opinion, Councilman Hall's proposed moratorium doesn't go far enough. "I don't want PARKatlanta in Atlanta period," he says. "Make a solution that works for people."