Rue the Boot
Roughly a year ago, on July 5, 2011, city workers began to attach yellow parking “boots” to immobilize cars with four or more unpaid parking tickets.
It was meant to generate revenue for the city, and it’s worked. But others are paying a price.
Together, the Interfaith Task Force and the Ballard Community Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness have spent $3,500 helping about 40 people keep their cars from being booted and then towed under the scofflaw ordinance.
The city has offered no formal mitigation for the law, leaving a small group of volunteers to pick up the pieces.
“We’re the only option, and that’s what we don’t like,” said Bill Kirlin-Hackett, executive director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness.
The law has a more pronounced effect on a small but vulnerable population, and he wants the city to do its part to help them.
“We’ve been sticking our fingers in the dike and carrying around our little Band-Aids,” Kirlin-Hackett said.
That can only last so long. He added: “We’re going to run out of money.”
Based on revenue, Seattle’s scofflaw parking program has been a success. The city collected $1.63 million in fines in 2011, just short of a projected
$1.8 million and more than covering the $738,000 the city paid in startup and maintenance.
The prospect of having their vehicles booted prompted people to pay up. Written warnings and publicity about the program helped the city collect
$1.2 million, without using the boot.
The numbers aren’t out yet for the first half of 2012, but the city budgeted $582,000 to maintain the program, and it expects to collect $23 million.
And the city says parking enforcement has avoided booting any car campers since the program started.
“Anyone who lives in a vehicle has not lost their vehicle,” said Edwin Obras, a program specialist in the Human Services Department.
Many are still scared they will.
Kirlin-Hackett keeps a handwritten note one car camper found on his vehicle that said, “No transient parking allowed. You have been reported to parking enforcement.”
Human Services sends out social workers to get car campers into housing, but if they need help with court fees, the city refers them to Kirlin-Hackett.
The Interfaith Task Force collects donations through email requests and stands with car campers in court. Some judges are willing to reduce fines significantly.
This has created a piecemeal mitigation that helps some people, but others could fall through the cracks, Kirlin-Hackett said. The city claims no car campers got the boot, but he wonders how they can know for sure.
The only city help for car campers facing the boot came from Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s office. Sahar Fathi, a former legislative aide and attorney, ran a hotline that offered legal help. Fathi, who has taken a leave of absence while she runs for a seat in the state House of Representatives, is no longer operating the hotline.
Fathi said she received dozens of calls at the beginning of the program from people who were avoiding the courts because of unpaid tickets for driving with an expired license or warrants for theft, usually the theft of food.
One man who had stolen $10 worth of chicken from Fred Meyer refused to pay his tickets because he was afraid any interaction with a governmental agency would cause him to get arrested for the theft, she said.
The Ballard Community Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness and the Interfaith Task Force asked the city to calculate how much time city staff and parking enforcement officers spend on the scofflaw program, to make sure that it truly generates revenue.
They also asked the city to set aside a portion of the revenue collected to covering the mitigation through a contracted nonprofit. The funds would be used to help people with little or no income pay off their outstanding tickets.
After all, doing so has cost the Interfaith Task Force just $3,500 so far, Kirlin-Hackett said.
O’Brien believes the request is reasonable.
“I think it’s very realistic, and I think it should be required that we set aside a small portion of [the revenue] for harm reduction,” he said.
But once a city takes on a contract, it typically gets more expensive, he said. Every dollar the Interfaith Task Force collected goes straight toward harm mitigation because people like Kirlin-Hackett volunteer their time.
Even a part-time city staffer will cost upwards of $30,000, O’Brien said.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.