Approaching the 300-block of eastbound Elm, you might think it’s your lucky day. Ahead is what appears to be a free, downtown parking spot.
But take a closer look, behind that telephone pole, and there’s a parking meter. It’s the only meter on this block.
“There’s just no way to see it,” said Pacific Beach resident Jed Sundwall, who got a parking ticket at the location in late January. “I don’t know when the telephone pole was put in there, or when the parking meter was put in there, but it looks like somebody is just playing a prank.”
Sundwall said he’s supportive of paid parking downtown, believing it’s a valuable source of revenue for the city, but he takes issue with that particular meter because of its lack of visibility from the curb and sidewalk.
“There’s no sign … nothing. So, it’s just like this secret, hidden parking spot, and I felt like I had fallen into a trap,” he said.
NBC7 Investigates requested data from the city on the amount of expired or overtime parking citations issued throughout the city. We examined that data and made it available to residents here. We also compared the amount of citations issued at that location with others throughout the city, finding a relatively low number issued at that particular spot.
We found only four parking meter tickets issued in 2013 to drivers at 300 Elm. Based on that data, the maximum the city could have collected from the location in 2013 is $160 – a figure that does not include a $12.50 surcharge per ticket that goes to the state. By comparison, parking enforcement officers issued at least 1,026 parking meter tickets at 3600 5th Ave., raking-in at least $30,000 from that one location.
“And that is very telling, because this is a heavily patrolled area,” City Spokesman Bill Harris said. “If we were somehow getting a lot of traffic tickets at this particular location, it might be a question mark, but that just isn’t the case.”
NBC7 Investigates asked the city if there are less tickets issued at the location because officers know it’s located behind a telephone pole and therefore cut drivers some slack. Harris said that’s not the case.
“We’ve got very good parking enforcement officers all over downtown,” he said. “I suspect they know exactly where it is, and in fact are always looking to make sure people are paying the appropriate parking fee at this spot.”
Harris added that the parking meter at 300 Elm is not targeted for parking enforcement any more or any less than others throughout the city, even though it’s the only meter on the block.
Sundwall appealed his ticket, providing the city with pictures of the spot. He lost that appeal and now says he will pay his fine. He believes the city should at least provide better clearer markings for the metered spot and said he absolutely would have dropped some coins in the meter had he seen it.
City Spokesman Harris responded to that by saying people can voice their protests at City Council meetings, call the Parking Enforcement Department or go on the city’s website to learn more about parking downtown.
“I think people who are regular parkers downtown understand that they have to look for the meter,” Harris said. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.”
By the Numbers
- The City issues almost 400,000 parking tickets per year, the equivalent of one ticket every 1 minute and 17 seconds.
- Of that, in 2013, 60,780 of those were parking meter tickets for expired or overtime meters.
- Based on the average fine of about $40 per ticket, the city could collect up to $16 million a year from parking tickets.
- Of that, $2.4 million would come from parking meter tickets.
- The top parking meter violator received 31 tickets last year in 2013, according to a review of the data.
- **Fines for parking tickets are not always collected within a year or even two years of the ticket being issued. Also, city officials say the money goes into the General Fund to cover city services such as street maintenance.