When You’re Not Looking, Even Enlightened Pols Turn into Car Enablers

What is this? A parking ticket or an abuse of city power? If you ask even enlightened members of the City Council, it's the latter. Photo: David Meyer
What is this? A parking ticket or an abuse of city power? If you ask even enlightened members of the City Council, it's the latter. Photo: David Meyer

I went to a City Council hearing about reining in illegally parked delivery trucks and ended up at an old-style tent revival meeting in support of drivers.

This happened Monday, when the Transportation, Finance and Governmental Operations committees held a joint hearing on several bills that are all related to parking. The main bill on the agenda was Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides’s proposal to end the Stipulated Fine Program, which reduces penalties to truck drivers who park illegally in exchange for them not fighting the tickets in court. The program costs the city tens of millions of dollars. There was another bill to make it more difficult for the city to tow the cars of repeat scofflaws and one that would give judges more right to dismiss parking summons to be nice.

Constantinides’s full-throated defense of his proposal — in the first 10 minutes of a two-hour hearing — was the highlight. Everything was downhill from there as one by one, council members used their allotted time to pontificate about how law enforcement officials unfairly “punish” “hard-working” New Yorkers whose only crime — getting parking tickets — is not even a crime to them. Some of those repeat scofflaws, of course, get their cars towed away for excessive parking tickets but that didn’t stop council members from berating city officials for making driving more difficult.

It’s worth taking a moment to recap some of the insanity that was publicly aired in the name of protecting recidivist scofflaws.

It started with — of all people — Ydanis Rodriguez, who was a finalist for Streetsblog’s Vision Zero Hero award last year thanks to his championing of protected bike lanes. For some reason, the Upper Manhattan council member used his allotted time to complain that “law-abiding” people are routinely being wrongly towed.

“There are locations where there is a no-parking area and they suffer the consequences and they get a ticket, fine,” he started. “But they are supposed to just get a fine, not be towed.”

Department of Finance Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Shear maintained that cars are never towed unless there are at least $350 in unpaid fines on them. That didn’t satisfy the Transportation Committee chairman, who went on:

Come on let’s be honest. We know that there are many hard-working people and their vehicle is being towed because we need to raise revenue and balance the budget. … I can give you examples — Twin Parks Montessori School at 93rd and Riverside Drive. There’s no parking. There are [enforcement agents] waiting there for the parents to park and then tow the vehicle. Everyone knows it. … And it’s not because of safety. It’s because there’s a number that we have to accomplish. Whoever breaks the law should pay the consequence. [But] if you park in a no-parking zone, it’s not a matter of safety. They should get a ticket and pay the fine. But every day, especially in under-served community, it’s a double-standard. People are getting towed and they don’t owe $1. So we should be real to ourselves. … If anyone goes out and sees what’s going on. hard-working people’s vehicles being towed.

City Sheriff Joseph Fucito disputed that. And Rodriguez disputed him.

Council Member Fernando Cabrera also presents himself as a street-safety advocate, but he demanded that parking ticket hearings don’t “skew on the side of the city, which seems unfair.” Shear reminded Cabrera that the dismissal rate for tickets is 45 percent, which is a lot, but Cabrera wants the city to do more.

“Is there a way to change the branding, on television or social media, with some funding to get the word out that 45 percent means you have a pretty good shot?” he asked. Shear said the city is trying to spread the word about the agency’s “parking summons advocate,” a $120,000 a year position created last year to help New Yorkers beat parking tickets (and panned this week by Streetsblog).

You expect pro-car sentiments from Kalman Yeger (left), but not from Ydanis Rodriguez. And yet...
You expect pro-car sentiments from Kalman Yeger (left), but not from Ydanis Rodriguez. And yet…

“We want people to know they have help,” Shear said. “We are publicizing that. And we are publicizing the dismissal rate.”

That wasn’t enough for Bronx Council Member Mark Gjonaj, who is no friend to street safety issues, opposing virtually all street redesigns and, especially, on-street protected bike lanes, of which there are exactly zero in his district.

“We have to make sure we don’t target double-parked cars because the punishment [leads to] a $600 fee on top [if the tickets are unpaid],” he said. “If you don’t know you got a ticket, the additional fees kick in, so within two tickets, you can hit the $350 limit and not even know it because your son used your car and ripped up the ticket. And then you’d be subject to $600 fine on top of it. That hurts New Yorkers. New Yorkers don’t deserve it and can’t afford it.”

Brooklyn Council Member Kalman Yeger was eager to promote his bill, Intro 1066, which would allow hearing officers to waive the additional penalties that accrue if someone does not pay his or her parking tickets in a timely fashion. His statements and questioning of city officials were belligerent — especially given that his bill would allow judges to eliminate penalties that only exist because some drivers refuse to pay their parking tickets. He called it a dismissal in the “interest of justice.” Reminder: Shear had already testified that judges have the discretion to dismiss tickets entirely — albeit not the late fees — for almost any reason, which is why the dismissal rate is 45 percent (or close to 85 percent, if a scofflaw gets in touch with the new “parking summons advocate”).

Yeger persisted:

“This ‘interest of justice’ dismissal is based on the 70-year-old guy coming in and saying, ‘Yes, I got the summons. I am guilty. But I live on a fixed income. I’ve never gotten a parking ticket before. Can you dismiss it?’ And the judge could say yes. They can’t do that now. … The bill allows the judges to dismiss the summons if they feel it would be in the interest of justice to dismiss it. They could just dismiss it.”

For some reason, no one jumped in to ask “why.” Why would any judge consider it in the “interest of justice” to eliminate a penalty for someone who willfully did not pay a parking ticket? Why would Ydanis Rodriguez waste valuable time complaining the people who park illegally are getting towed? Why would Mark Gjonaj and Fernando Cabrera do what they do?

In fairness, Finance Committee Chairman Danny Dromm consistently pointed out factual inaccuracies in his colleagues’ rants, Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers got very upset about illegal parking by United States Postal Service vehicles, and, of course, Constantinides continues to wage war on the Stipulated Fine Program. But illegal parking by everyday New Yorkers? The New York City Council clearly does not consider it a problem.

So Monday ended with clear evidence that the legislature cares way too much about drivers and has no problem enabling the worst behavior of this entitled class.

  • Larry Littlefield

    When you’re not looking, there are no enlightened pols in New York.

    Maybe Suozzi, if he’s still out there. Golisano, though he wasn’t a pol. Moynihan, gone and buried. Cuomo I.

    Here is what I don’t get. In a democracy, one would have expected pols to try to implement policies to benefit ordinary people in the run up to elections, and then cut deals at their expense to benefit special interest when the next election is far away. But in NY it seems to be the exact opposite.

  • cjstephens

    Back in my days as a parking ticket judge, there was no correlation between the progressive bona fides of a pol and how much she would kowtow to a constituent with a parking gripe. The left wingers in the West Village were just as adamant about how wronged their car parking constituents were as were the conservatives on Staten Island. I expect if you ran the plates of the politicians themselves for parking and red light violations, you would find them to be lousy across the spectrum.

    I’ll take issue with one small point: the “interest of justice” provision is one that really would crop up from time to time. Example: guy gets a parking ticket on his car while his house is literally burning down at the same time. “I’m too old” or “I can’t afford it” aren’t good excuses, but there were some sob stories you really couldn’t ignore. Registered owner of the car didn’t move her car that morning for street cleaning because she died of a stroke the night before. Things like that.

  • Twin Parks Montessori School at 93rd and Riverside Drive. There’s no parking. There are [enforcement agents] waiting there for the parents to park and then tow the vehicle. 

    That’s the way it should be everywhere. The penalty for double parking should be severe enough to dissuade people from doing it.

  • Flakker

    Yeah, was thinking the same thing. My car got towed in Chelsea a few years ago after like 30 minutes. Rodriguez may be correct that they’re improperly towing people (and how is a new law going to correct enforcement if existing law is not enforced?) but the idea that “our under-served community” is getting picked on is BS.

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