LONG BEACH — The middle-aged woman sprang on two good legs from her car, looked Audrey Paul in the face and told the wheelchair-bound woman to go elsewhere for a parking spot.
"She said she'd only be (in the blue handicapped zone) for a minute, and that she would not move her car. Then she ignored me," said Paul, 55.
The recent incident at a downtown supermarket infuriated Paul. She parked in a corner of the lot, maneuvered into her wheelchair and to a telephone to call police. It all took perhaps 15 minutes.
"By then the woman was gone. I thought about how we had to stop this one way or another," Paul said.
One possible solution was proposed last week by the city's Citizens Advisory Commission on the Handicapped, of which Paul is a member.
It asked the City Council to consider an unusual program in which police-trained disabled volunteers could issue tickets to drivers who illegally park in blue zones reserved for the physically disabled.
"This is a very important issue to us . . . . These drivers are taking away part of our rights," said Millree Mellie, an advisory commission member.
The proposal was received by the City Council without public comment. In an interview, Mayor Ernie Kell expressed little interest.
"I think we need to leave that to the Police Department. There could be a lot of hard feelings if the handicapped start giving out ($53) tickets. There could be a backlash," he said.
Authorized by '84 State Law
Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, however, said he would ask the city staff to research the issue.
If adopted, the program would be the second of its kind in California, and the first adopted since a 1984 state law authorized cities and counties to set up platoons of disabled citizens' patrols to write parking tickets.
All recent proposals "have been thoroughly shot down," said Richard Stoney, president of the 2,300-member California Assn. of the Physically Handicapped.
"There are always a lot of questions about insurance and what would happen if somebody took a swing at someone in a wheelchair. It's the old double standard," Stoney said. "But it's a heck of an idea."
The idea was first embraced by Capitola, a beachfront town near Santa Cruz.
Since 1979, a small part-time force of wheelchair-bound employees has patrolled that city's streets as a self-described Quad Squad. The name is derived from quadriplegic, although none of the squad's members are paralyzed from the neck down.
No disabled parking officer has ever been injured on the job, said Capitola Police Capt. Thomas Hanna. The city has found the highly motivated $8-an-hour employees to be more efficient and less expensive than full-time parking officers, Hanna said.
"It's one of those things where people were skeptical at the outset, but now everybody claims it was their idea," Hanna said.
"Able-bodied people keep thinking of all the obstacles," he said. "But we found that if we would just present the obstacles to the handicapped employees, they would find solutions we don't see."
Capitola's program apparently was unique in the nation until 1985, when a much larger program was set up in the Tampa, Fla., area. Now, at least five cities or counties in Florida, Virginia and Utah have established volunteer disabled units.
The Tampa-area program has been widely praised by associations for the disabled, social service agencies and several once-skeptical law enforcement groups, its founders say.
"It has been an absolute public relations coup," said R. D. Reder, spokesman for the Hillsborough County, Fla., Sheriff's Office, whose program was featured on a network news broadcast in June. Reder has received about 500 requests for more information from across the nation, he said.
"This program benefits the disabled because a lot of them are shunned by employers who think they can't work and this proves they can, and because it opens up parking spaces," Reder said. "It also educates the public on why disabled spaces are so important."
Officials in the Long Beach city attorney's office and Police Department said they have not researched the issue. But the advisory commission's proposal raises questions about who would be liable if a disabled officer were injured on the job and about how well parking laws are now enforced, they said.
Long Beach police officers and fire, building and public works inspectors all write handicapped-zone parking tickets. "That's an indication of a real commitment here," Deputy Police Chief Charles Clark said.
"Our guys are pretty aware of this problem," Clark said. "For a while I personally carried a ticket book, and I'd write them when I was off duty because it irritated me."
Clark said he did not know how many tickets are written here. But several disabled persons said illegal blue-zone parking is a big problem. Paul said she sees it every time she goes shopping.