parking enforcement

San Diego Tickets More Drivers After the Pandemic Pause Than Before

NBC Universal, Inc.

We’ve all done it – holding our breath just a bit walking back to our cars, hoping we don’t see a parking ticket tucked under a windshield wiper.

For seven months, the city of San Diego gave drivers a reprieve, halting most parking enforcement -- drivers still had to avoid red-, white- and blue-curb spots, of course -- from mid-March to mid-October in response to the pandemic.

But nearly one month after the return of the dreaded parking tickets, NBC 7 Investigates wanted to know: Does the city have quotas for parking tickets? Would the city ticket fewer or more cars than it did before the pandemic pause?

The answer: More. A lot more.

NBC7 Investigates filed a records request for all parking citations issued during the first two weeks the city resumed ticketing (from Oct. 15-28, 2020), and we also asked for all citations during the same two-week period last year.

Here’s what we found: The first two weeks the city re-enforced parking, it fined 8,000 more drivers than were cited during the same two-week period in last year.

Last year, San Diego ticketed 20,960 vehicles. This year, 29,033 were cited. That’s a 40% increase.

Both years, street-sweeping violations claimed the lion’s share of parking tickets – but check out the difference in 2020: This year, the city slapped nearly 5,000 more tickets for the same violation.

Expired meters were the second most-common reason to get a ticket. And again, a huge difference year to year. In 2020, the city ticketed nearly 2,000 more vehicles for expired meters than last year.

Two other violations also saw major spikes: residential permits and loading zones.

Residential-permit parking tickets more than tripled, from 612 to more than 2,000 this year.

And loading-zone violations more than doubled, from 700 in 2019 to more than 1,400 this year.

Reactions to the parking-enforcement restart were definitely mixed.

“We’re actually in a more acute situation than we were when we first started,” Michael Klatts told NBC. “So I don’t believe that this is the time to become more stringent on penalties.”

“I think it’s a fine time to restart,” said Bankers Hill resident Jack Cassidy. “It’s not like a big burden to pay for parking."

The city turned down our request for an interview, but a spokeswoman sent NBC 7 Investigates a prepared statement essentially attributing the surge in tickets to two things:

  1. A “higher than normal” number of drivers violating parking laws after the enforcement restart
  2. The employment of five more parking enforcement officers

The city spokeswoman added that the suspension of street-sweeping enforcement “has resulted in a build-up of sediment and debris in the curb and gutter,” something that not only can pollute down storm drains but can increase the risk for flooding.

“I think that they’re just doing it to drum up money for the city and then they don’t even fix the potholes,” Hillcrest resident William Robinson said.

“I think people do not know whether or not parking regulations are back in effect,” Hillcrest resident Gigi Cohn said

Cohn suspects folks are just plain confused and blames the city for what she said was a failure to get the word out.  

“I think it’s not clear,” Cohn said. “People don’t know if they have to put money in meters. What are the rules right now?”

During both two-week periods, Tuesdays were the day of the week that saw the most parking tickets. Sundays saw the fewest.

Below are the Top 10 parking violations most commonly ticketed, in descending order:

  1. Violation of signs-street sweeping
  2. Expired meter
  3. Current registration not displayed
  4. Violation of San Diego Municipal Code signs
  5. Residential permit area
  6. Loading zone
  7. Red zone
  8. Wheel cramping
  9. Passenger zone
  10. Sidewalk

Below were the streets most commonly ticketed in descending order:

  1. 2100 block of Newton Avenue
  2. 800 block of 13th Street
  3. 2600 block of Newton Avenue
  4. 400 block of 15th Street
  5. De Anza Boat Launch Ramp (3500 block of Mission Bay Drive)
  6. 1200 block of University Avenue
  7. 500 block of 13th Street
  8. 3800 block of 4th Avenue
  9. 3900 block of 5th Avenue
  10. 1400 block of Island Avenue

Below is the complete statement from the city about the increase in parking:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide context for the information you received through a PRA request on parking citations from October 2020 and October 2019. There are multiple departments and agencies responsible for parking enforcement in the City of San Diego. San Diego Police Department (SDPD) and the Transportation & Storm Water Department (TSW) both issue citations for violations of parking rules and they make up 90% of the issued citations in the time period of your request. 

For the time period of Oct. 15-28, 2020, both SDPD and TSW attribute an increase in parking citations (compared to 2019 numbers) to the parking enforcement restart that came after a seven-month suspension. On March 16, the City temporarily suspended parking enforcement following the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Citations continued to be issued for vehicles parked illegally at red, white and blue painted curbs during that time.

Parking enforcement was restarted on Oct. 15, 2020, following multiple public notifications through news media, social media and courtesy notices placed on vehicles along street sweeping routes. It’s important to note that the city enacted a two-week grace period where warning tickets (with no fines) were issued prior to the start of enforcement. Upon the enforcement restart, both SDPD and TSW noted a higher-than-normal (“normal” compared to a non-COVID year) number of meter and street sweeping violations. 

Additionally, in October 2020, SDPD had five more parking enforcement officers working in the city compared to the same period in 2019. This increase is also a reason for a higher number of citations.

As an essential service for the city and the environment, street sweeping operations have continued during the pandemic. In areas with posted routes, enforcement of the “no parking” zones was temporarily suspended in March, but sweeping continued, and street sweepers went around parked cars. Along many of our routes, this has resulted in a build-up of sediment and debris in the curb and gutter. Vehicles parked in violation of posted street-sweeping routes are now being cited to allow for street sweeping operations to continue fully, which is crucial to prevent the flow of debris and pollution into our storm drains and greatly reduces potential for flooding as the rainy season approaches.  Parking enforcement allows for fair access to businesses, including retail shops and restaurants, and helps ensure public safety. Parking restrictions in the city of San Diego are necessary to properly manage and maximize public benefit of the city’s on-street parking resources. To find more information about parking regulations, visit sandiego.gov/parking.

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