April 2, 2009

WC Parking meter matters (Part 1): You can seriously consider IGNORING those parking tickets issued at private downtown lots


Ever get a parking ticket parking in downtown Walnut Creek? But not from the City of Walnut Creek for parking on the street at an expired meter, which is under the jurisdiction of a public, government entity.

I’m talking about those private lots in downtown Walnut Creek, like the lots behind Peet’s Coffee and Tea (pictured right) or Pyramid Brewery.

One legal expert says you don’t have to pay those tickets, although the companies that enforce parking on those private lots sure do a good job of making their meters and their tickets look as though they carry the “force of the law.”

But these privately issued tickets don’t have such force, this expert says, and Walnut Creek city staff concede that this expert has a point.

The expert I’m talking about is Len Tillem, the KGOAM810 radio personality and lawyer who has a noontime Monday-Friday show.

“If you get a ticket from the real cops, a city police department, if you don’t pay the ticket, it will ride on your DMV record,” Tillem said on his show Tuesday. “When you renew your registration, the DMV will make you pay it off or they won’t let you renew your car registration.”
Tillem was specifically addressing the practices of private parking lot owners in Walnut Creek—though his message could apply to private lot operators throughout the Bay Area. On his show, Tillem took a call from someone who identified himself as “Bill from Petaluma." Poor Bill had found himself caught up in an all-too-typical and annoying downtown Walnut Creek parking snare.

Bill said he had come to Walnut Creek to meet some friends for lunch at a restaurant a week or so earlier. He parked in a lot near a restaurant off an alleyway. He didn’t mention the name of the restaurant, but the alleyway he’s referring to is probably Commercial Lane, which runs between North Main and Locust Streets. Bill said he parked, dashed into the restaurant to see if his friends were there, and got an unpleasant surprise when he dashed back out. There was a ticket on his windshield, which said he needed to pay $25 in the next 21 days. If he let the payment go beyond 21 days, the fine would go up to $40.

The ticket looked very official, Bill said.

But Bill had his doubts. And he was right to have doubts, Tillem said, after Bill described the wording on the ticket.

Tillem took the matter one step further: “I would ignore it. You have a fake parking ticket. From a company that is operating a parking lot. I don’t think it has any force of law. It’s unenforceable.”

Yes, Tillem said, the company could pursue Bill to pay up, but the company could only do so civilly, not criminally. The company would have to go to the trouble of filing a suit in small claims court.


And, under the city ordinance dealing with private parking operators, no private operator can “threaten to report an unpaid notice of a parking charge to a credit bureau or a collection agency unless a small claims court or other judicial proceeding has established the debt.”

Moreover, Tillem said, Bill shouldn’t worry about this unpaid ticket being reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. “If you get a ticket from the real cops, a city police department, it will ride on your DMV record," Tillem said. "When you go to renew your registration, the DMV will make you pay it off, or they’ll not let you renew your car registration.”

Yes, state law says the owner of the private lot can say you’re trespassing on private property and have your car towed. But that’s a different matter than just getting one of their tickets, and assuming (incorrectly) that the consequences will be the same as getting a city-issued violation if you don’t pay it.

Basically, Tillem said, it would cost the private parking lot operator a lot of time and money to go after Bill (or others of us) civilly to pay that $25 ticket—a lot more than accepting the loss of the $25 he refuses to pay. City law says the private lot operator must provide motorists with a process for appealing their tickets, which includes trained, impartial mediators to help settle disputes. That sounds like another costly endeavor for these private lot operators.

Brad Rovanpera, Walnut Creek’s public information officer, checked with the city attorney and confirmed my interpretation of Len Tillem’s analysis.
“You are correct that if someone doesn't pay in response to a notice of a parking charge, this is not reported to the DMV and does not affect the renewal of a vehicle registration.” Rovanpera said. According to Rovanpera, the city attorney “added that the City does not have any role in enforcing the notices of parking charges.” Nor is the city involved in the mediation process.”

In response to a question I had about whether Walnut Creek in any way benefits financially from the revenues these private lots earn by issuing tickets or towing cars, Rovanpera said: “The city does not benefit financially from the private parking enforcement companies other than receiving the payment of business license taxes that are applicable to all businesses.”

Thanks Mr. Rovanpera for giving the city’s take on this issue.
And thanks to Len Tillem (I'm a fan of his show, when I get the chance to listen to it) for addressing this downtown Walnut Creek parking perplexity. I know it has been a source of frustration for me and for a fair number of people I know who live in Walnut Creek or who regularly shop and dine here.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I decided to ignore one of those tickets and even got a certified letter from a so called law firm demanding payment. I continued to hold my ground and that was the last I heard from them over a year ago.

DUBC said...

Great story Soccer Mom. I got one of these tickets and was curious about how they work. You are 100% correct that the city has nothing to do with them and they carry no legal weight with the DMV. Regional Parking will only take the worst of the worst offenders to small claims court to collect. As you said, they will tow your car. They track how many unpaid tickets you have and tow the car if there are 3 or more. A source at the city tells me Regional Parking has been keeping cars until drivers pay their unpaid tickets. The police can tow and impound your car if you have 5 or more unpaid tickets. Regional Parking, a private company, CANNOT. My source told me the police department gets lots of complaints about this and Regional Parking is basically breaking the law by demanding drivers pay their tickets before getting their car from the tow yard. So basically you don't have to pay the tickets but you can get towed if you don't. If your car does get towed, the only fees you have to pay are to the tow company for towing and storage.

Anonymous said...

What a scam. Just another reason not to shop or dine in Walnut Creek.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Why do people believed they have a right to park in a private parking lot and not pay the fee that is posted?

Soccer Mom said...

DUBC:
Thanks for adding that information. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how they get
your name and addrsss from DMV?
I thought that info was now
unavailable except to police.

Anonymous said...

I work for WCPD. We get called to disputes involving a citizen and Regional Parking all the time. Everything on the blog is correct. If you don't pay, Regional Parking will have to take you to small claims court and get a judgement ordered to force you to pay the ticket. So far, they have not been willing to do that. If I got a ticket I would not pay it. Go ahead take me to court if I lose, I will pay, but I'm going to make you (Regional Parking) fight to get your money on a BS ticket.

Regional Parking contracts with N. Main Tow to tow cars that are illegally parked. While the tow may be legally proper (although ethically not), they cannot hold your car hostage to get their money. North Main Tow has been advised of this by the PD.

Anonymous said...

Another thing, the PD cops think the Regional Parking employees are a bunch of jerks. If I see one of those guys run a stop sign or any other even minor traffic violation they're gonna get a REAL ticket!

Anonymous said...

Want to know just how much influence Regional Parking has in Walnut Creek?

Check out who is president of the Downtown Business Association...find any connection to Regional Parking?

Also take a look at campaign finance reports from the past two Council Elections (2006 & 2008) and the Measure R campaign (2005 - Library finance measure) and see who gives maximum donations to the annointed candidates and issues.

Regional Parking is trying to be a major player in Walnut Creek judging by their various activities in the city and seem to hope that someday they will have a Council that will support them.

However, all this said, private parking lot owners do have the right to charge for parking and violaters should face the consequences when breaking the rules by not paying.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anon 7:16.
Interesting information you are sharing with readers. Just a quick perusal of Walnut Creek's Downtown Business Association tells me that this president is, in fact, Robert Power, president of Regional Parking.

Came across this article referring to Robert Power and Regional Parking in the East Bay Express. Regional Parking apparently wields some influence in local city governments:

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/news/where_s_al_/Content?oid=287621

As for the campaign finance information... it merits more look-see.

Thanks for taking the time to post.

Soccer Mom said...

Went to Regional Parking's website:

Here is what Regional Parking says about itself:
"Established in 1992, Regional Parking, Inc. manages parking facilities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area with a client base consisting of small to large shopping centers, office buildings, downtown associations, banks and retail stores. Our goal is to ensure customer parking, discourage illegal parking and create convenient employee parking alternatives. Specializing in high-end downtown developments, we are a leader in the industry."

The company, thereafter, is a bit elusive in naming clients, unlike most contractors providing services. They would be only too happy to name names.

But Regional Parking only says:
Shopping Centers
Banks
Office Buildings
Retail Stores
Downtown Associations
Schools
Hospitals
Privately Owned Parking Lots

Gee, I wonder which ones, and wonder why the company is being so, uh, shy.

Anyway, had no idea that the president of the Downtown Business Association was connected with one of these private parking enforcement companies. A little weird?

What do the rest of you think?

Anonymous said...

He probably isn't a resident of WC. Many of the DBA are business owners but not residents. They wield a great deal of power at city hall......money talks.

Soccer Mom said...

The Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association is doing its bit to help visitors keep feeding those meters. From the latest association newsletter:

"The WCDBA is printing special decal signs for merchants who wish to inform the public that they will make change for any visitor who needs coins to feed their parking meters. Contact the WCDBA office if you wish to have one of these non-adhesive signs for your window."

One problem I've heard with this service that merchants will offer is that if you park, and run in to get change, you might face a parking enforcement officer writing a ticket when you return. They are know to patrol several streets pretty heavily and to pounce. This has happened to a couple friends of mine.

Does the Downtown Business Association have a solution for this?

Anonymous said...

For public metered spots that the city patrols, it is still a violation to be parked in the same stall over the allotted time. If you feed the meter to stay in the stall, you could still be issued a citation. I don't necessarily agree with this, but those are the rules. I suppose it's so one person can hog the same metered spot all day long.

Don't pay your Regional Parking cites!! Revolt!

Anonymous said...

The Tablots lot in WC is managed by Regional Parking Inc. What they are doing in that lot is a scam. They gave me the fee notice and towed. $290 for the towing company, and so far $0 for the fee (fighting the fee notice). We should get the Contra Costa times to right an article explaining the scam. Don't fill out the information card at North Main Towing. If you do, Robert Power will have your address for his scare tactics.

Anonymous said...

5/7/2010
On "Park Smart" (aka Regional Parking): I received two tickets from this company: the first for going across the street to a jewelry repair store for a few minutes (after having shopped in the "Park Smart" store; the other for a faulty meter. I was taken to Small Claims Court, and now have to pay $280 for the tickets ($100, and $180 in court costs). This company is truly ruthless and the judge seemed to be totally on their side. What is wrong with Walnut Creek? I will never shop there again.

Anonymous said...

My wife received a notice from Regional Parking awhile back. I timed the meter for one hour and it rolled over after 52 minutes. We scheduled a hearing and the arrogant woman who heard the case said the meters are calibrated electronically. The hearing officer was more interested in telling us a boring story about her dog, then found my wife guilty. I later called the company that manufactures the meters and they laughed. They said there was no such calibration. By the way, since then, I have caught two of their punk meter maids writing tickets BEFORE the meter expired. Nothing like a monetary incentive to lie....pretty shallow people, especially Mr. Power.

Anonymous said...

I got a ticket in the Bank of America parking lot in Berkeley. Parked in the ATM parking on a sunday when the bank was closed, went to deposit a few checks, came back and had a huge sticker on my window and a ticket.

The guy said I wasn't at the bank EVEN though i had a receipt. He wouldn't do anything about the ticket and just said to call the company to dispute.

I have been banking with Bank of America for over 15 years and closed my account immediately after this incident. Any bank that works with scammers like this, does not deserve our business.

Anonymous said...

He needs the money for his cocaine addiction. Oops, sorry Rob - the secret is out. I warned you!

Anonymous said...

I got a ticket in the Bank of America parking lot in Berkeley. I parked in the lot on a Sunday evening to pull some money from the ATM, only to come back and find a ticket on my front window.

Many of the earlier posts say that I can ignore the ticket, but they were posted in 2009. Should I ignore the ticket or just pay it out to avoid the potential hassle?

Anonymous said...

I just received a notice from Regional Parking INC, for 2 tickets, $40 each. The first one was on 7/7/07, for parking in Wells Fargo after 5pm. on Sat., which I thought I paid for $25.
Recently I got one ($25) on 10/29/10 while Parking at ROSS over 2 hours, which I did not pay. I admit, after shopping there, we went across the street to eat.
I do not want have to my car towed or pay fees for Small Claims.
court. I am dismayed to hear that a person had to pay $280, RIPOFF!!
I guess I won't be shopping in Walnut Creek as often.

Anonymous said...

I received a ticket a year ago that I was certain was paid. This year, Regional Parking had N Main Tow attempt to tow my car. The tow driver was rude and took video of ME (because I was disputing his efforts to tow). I had to pay $75 on the spot. He then "dropped" my car causing damage to it, just adding insult to an already frustrating situation. Is there a remedy against N Main?

Anonymous said...

I got one "ticket" from this company and I was curious, how do they trace you? According to this article they are not allowed to do so:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/09/24/BA138065.DTL

So that means, if I never go back again, to park at that parking lot, I will not be found, right?

Manuel Lopez said...

This blog post is poorly written, ill-informed, filled with poor legal advice.

First, the Walnut Creek ordinance requires that the parking invoices (what people are calling a "parking tickets") explicitly state that they are not parking tickets.

Second, the radio show host/lawyer is providing legal insights ala Dr. Phil providing medical advice. ZERO expertise in the situation, which is abundantly clear in his statement "I would ignore it. You have a fake parking ticket. From a company that is operating a parking lot. I don’t think it has any force of law."

Third, the guy admits to parking without paying and the lawyer and the blogger take his side. If this blogger discovered that I had taken some of her writing and used it in my writing and didn't provide credit I highly doubt she would think it is okay to do.

The Walnut Creek official is simply wrong when he says “The city does not benefit financially from the private parking enforcement companies other than receiving the payment of business license taxes that are applicable to all businesses.” The city receives a ton of money in the form of sales taxes on goods and services that are made accessible from parking turnover. The meters keep employees from taking up the parking spaces nearest the shops, high school students who park there because they plan to sneak out of school early, or people who buy one thing and then dawdle around all day. Nothing wrong with dawdling as long as you don't take up a much needed parking space while doing it.

Finally, two of paragraphs in this post exactly the same:

“If you get a ticket from the real cops, a city police department, if you don’t pay the ticket, it will ride on your DMV record,” Tillem said on his show Tuesday. “When you renew your registration, the DMV will make you pay it off or they won’t let you renew your car registration."

Manuel- City Planning graduate student at UC Berkeley