Proposal Would Allow Vets to Park for Free

Critics say it’s too easy to forge plates, sets precedence for others who want free parking

Veterans with special plates may be able to leave their quarters at home when they park on San Diego streets.

A city committee considered a proposed ordinance Wednesday that would grant the parking privilege to veterans with specialized plates.

California’s Pearl Harbor survivors, former American Prisoners of War, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and several others would not have to pay for parking in San Diego meters, the ordinance states.

The cost to the city is an estimated $3,000 to $4,000 per year in lost revenue from parking meters. Compared to the total amount of cash the city brings in from parking meters -- about $7.7 million -- the financial impact is negligible, said city Traffic Engineer Linda Marabian at the Land Use and Housing Committee meeting Wednesday. 

“It’s a way to support our most distinguished veterans at a relatively low cost to the city,” she said.

The proposed ordinance stems from Assembly Bill 190, established in 2008. Four other cities have already opted for the exemptions – one of which being Coronado. The City of San Diego would just be opting into the program, said the committee's chairwoman Councilmember Lorie Zapf.

Though no one at the meeting disagreed with the idea of supporting the state’s veterans, one speaker said the license plates are easy to forge, and violators do not risk punishment.

“It’s as easy as signing paper that says ‘I’m telling the truth about being a vet,’ and escape paying $4,000 in [parking fees],” said veteran Gary Smith. “There are people would there that will do that in half-a-second.”

When a veteran dies, the California government allows the veteran’s family to keep the plates. However the families are not allowed to use them on their own cars. Smith said there is zero punishment for those who do, though. Marabian was not able to confirm this with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Smith added that the exemption would set precedence for other civil servants who – though they may deserve the respect – may not warrant a free parking spot.

Details such as those should be overlooked though, said speaker and veteran Doug Beckham.

“This should be passed regardless of the loopholes,” Beckham said. “You just can’t do enough for these veterans.”

Councilmember Todd Gloria commented that the ordinance would not allow veterans to park at meters for over two hours. Within those two hours, the drivers would not have to pay for parking.

The committee decided to move the proposal to council and invite a DMV representative to answer their questions.

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