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Tales From the Freeway

Parking Pains : The Fine Art of Finding the Elusive Space and Avoiding Tickets


Some people have fantastic parking karma. They can find a parking space within two inches of where they want to be, their parallel parking is effortless, and they never get tickets for staying at a meter too long or for parking farther than 18 inches from a curb. (They would never park 18 inches from a curb).

For others, parking is the horrible realization that they are through driving and want to stop the car, but can't. It means valuable daylight hours spent snaking around parking lots waiting for spaces that never materialize--except for the person ahead of them--and parallel parking is an embarrassment, usually with at least five cars piling up behind.

For the parking fortunate and unfortunate, here are some of the ins and outs of parking in North County:

Where is it OK to park?

Each city sets its own policy on where you can park and for how long; some use meters and some don't. Encinitas, Poway, Solana Beach, Carlsbad, San Marcos and Vista are among those that do not have parking meters. They rely instead upon time zones, and parking enforcement officers are employed to assist sheriff's deputies and police in issuing citations.

Del Mar is one of the communities with meters--it has 100, 40 along the beach and 60 in a parking structure underneath the Inn L'Auberge. In addition to the county sheriff's department, 2 full-time and 3 part-time city employees enforce Del Mar parking rules. Twenty-five cents will buy a motorist half an hour at the beach parking meters and 15 minutes at the parking structure underneath the inn.

What are the going rates for parking fines?

Parking fines are separated into two categories--municipal codes and vehicle codes that apply statewide.

A municipal code includes infractions such as parking in red zones, parking in one place longer than 72 hours, parking on streets the day the street sweeper is due, and not turning car wheels properly into the curb when parking on a hill.

Vehicle code violations include parking in handicap spaces without the proper placard, parking in a fire lane, not having current registration tabs on the license plate, not having a license plate, parking too far from a curb and parking the wrong way on a street.

In Solana Beach and Encinitas, parking citations are issued by the sheriff's substation in Encinitas. The cheapest municipal violation is $31 and the cheapest vehicle code violation is $25, said sheriff's deputy Dave McNary.

These fees double in 30 days if payment is not made, McNary said. A $10 or $15 charge is also added if the Department of Motor Vehicles has to process any information, such as noting a car is missing a registration tag.

In Poway, the most expensive ticket is $120 for parking in a handicapped zone and the least expensive is $25. In Vista, the cheapest citation is $22 for parking too far from the curb, and the most common citation is $32 for parking longer than the time limit allows.

In Del Mar, an expired parking meter at $19 is the most common infraction, said Grant Larson, community services director. After 30 days, the vehicle owner gets a notice of delinquency and has 14 more days to pay the fine before a $33 charge is tacked on to the original penalty.

How much revenue do cities get from parking?

In Del Mar, which last year issued about 20,000 parking citations, parking violations brought in $308,745 and parking-meter revenue was $71,900.

Last year, Vista received $136,098 for their general fund from about 6,000 citations. In Solana Beach, about 3,000 tickets were issued in 1991, generating $130,000 for the city.

In Escondido, between July 1991 and June 1992, 3,505 tickets were issued, generating $109,755 for the city. In Poway this year, 602 tickets have generated $95,204 for the general fund.

What do parking scofflaws have to fear?

A state law passed in January allows officers to impound a car with five or more unpaid parking tickets, making the owner pay off their fines before they get their car back.

The new law also gives officers carte blanche to suspend a person's driver's license and make it impossible for them to renew their vehicle registration until they pay off their tickets. Again, this applies to people with five or more unpaid citations.

The Denver Boot, a contraption that officers clamp onto the wheel of a parked car that has several outstanding parking citations to render it immobile, is not used in North County, said McNary of the Sheriff's Department.

So what do all the different curb colors mean?

In green zones, parking is allowed for a limited, designated time. The time is usually posted on a nearby sign or painted on the curb.

In a white zone, a motorist may stop only long enough to pick up or drop off passengers or mail.

In yellow zones, passenger pick up and drop off is also allowed, although local law dictates a specific time limit and drivers of non-commercial vehicles are usually required to stay with their car.

A red zone means no stopping, standing or parking. (A bus may stop at a red zone marked for buses.)

The blue zone is for handicapped motorists only and a special placard must be displayed in the car.

Where is parking prohibited?

Parking is forbidden in a number of places including: within 15 feet of a fire hydrant or a fire station driveway; within 3 feet of a sidewalk ramp for the disabled; in front of someone else's driveway; in a tunnel or on a bridge; within 7 1/2-feet of a railroad track; in an intersection or crosswalk and on a sidewalk.

Where are the biggest parking lots?

It's no guarantee you'll find one quickly when you're trying to park, but Plaza Camino Real shopping center in Carlsbad has about 6,000 spaces; North County Fair shopping mall in Escondido has 5,702 parking spaces; the new California State San Marcos campus has 1,000 spaces; the San Diego Wild Animal Park has 2,224 paved parking spaces and nearly 2,000 more in an overflow dirt lot.

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