By Tim Whyte
My son was home on holiday break from college, and he had an early-morning doctor appointment to get one of his various hockey injuries checked out. When he arrived back home, he came to my bedroom where I was getting ready for work.
And he was laughing his sarcastic little ass off.
“You got a parking ticket,” he said, guffawing at my misfortune.
I got a what?
A parking ticket. Across the street from my house. Apparently, the night before — at 10:50 p.m. — an extremely zealous city code enforcement officer wrote me up for being parked too close to the fire hydrant across the street from my house.
In general, I consider myself a law abider, not a breaker. And our neighborhood has been evacuated twice in the 17 years we have lived there due to imminent wildfire danger, so the last thing I want to do is block a fire hydrant.
I ran outside to investigate.
I looked at where my truck was parked. It appeared fine — a nice gap between my truck and the hydrant. Any mildly athletic firefighter would have absolutely no problem connecting his hose to the hydrant.
This must be some mistake, right?
I ran back inside and grabbed a tape measure. I looked up the code online. It says 15 feet is the minimum distance, but it doesn’t say where on the vehicle you should measure from. Bumper? Tire? The law is not specific.
Eyeballing it, I thought it was pretty close, in any case.
I measured. The very tip of my front bumper was about 13 feet, 6 inches away. A little more than that, really. But let’s round down to be conservative.
They had me dead to rights, I thought. But damn, that’s nitpicky.
I can guarantee you that if I was a code enforcement officer and I drove past a vehicle that was clearly not intended to be crowding the hydrant, and it generally passed the “eyeball test,” I’d keep driving.
Not this guy. Whoever it was, they were intent on fixing my wagon for daring to put my bumper only 13 and a half feet from a fire hydrant. They must have measured because you couldn’t tell just by looking.
I pictured the code enforcement guy stopping, and calling in a football chain gang from the sidelines.
“Do we have a first down here???”
(Chain gang guys stretch the chains, pausing for dramatic effect before setting them down…)
“No, it’s short! Fourth down!”
It’s a $68 ticket, you know. That’s only $32 less than the fine the city slapped on the Vista Valencia golf course last summer for a poorly maintained water hazard that stunk up an entire neighborhood for weeks on end.
I was ticked off. I made a post on Facebook and I tweeted it, too.
It blew up. More than 100 comments. Most of those who commented on the post agreed with me that it was a bull-you-know-what ticket. But a few said I should not consider myself above the law. And I agree. If I was too close, I was too close, even if it was a ticky-tack ticket.
After I cooled down, I called the city’s chief of code enforcement, Community Preservation Manager Daniel Rivas. He was very generous with his time and explained the ins and outs of how the city enforces parking ordinances — including the fact that it’s a 24/7 operation, so it shouldn’t necessarily be surprising that I was cited at 10:50 p.m.
Me? I thought it seemed like the code enforcement officer must have been lurking near my house waiting for me to test the limits of how close I could get my truck to the fire hydrant.
Rivas also explained that such enforcement is often precipitated by complaints in a neighborhood. So, maybe Gladys Kravitz has been complaining about my parking habits.
But the most important piece of information he gave me was this:
Their normal standard of enforcement is to measure from the front of your front tire, not your bumper.
I couldn’t run to my truck fast enough with my tape measure in hand. I measured from the bumper to the front tire.
Eighteen, count ’em, 18 inches.
Last I checked, 18 inches plus 13 and a half feet equals 15 feet.
I was in compliance.
So, I followed the directions and submitted my photos online — the city uses a third-party vendor for these code enforcement tickets, citationprocessingcenter.com.
I submitted the original photo showing the distance to my bumper and an additional shot showing the 18 inches from bumper to tire. I wrote a statement explaining that, by the city’s own enforcement standard, my ticket should be dismissed because I was, in fact, 15 feet from the hydrant as measured to the front of my front tire.
Once I hit “submit,” I was perfectly smug in how right I knew I was.
A couple weeks later, I got a notice in the mail indicating they had completed the review of my citation and my argument against it.
The good news is, they dismissed the ticket.
The bad news? They said it was being dismissed as a “one-time courtesy.”
“The following comments have been provided as a result of the administrative review,” the notice said. “Dismissed as a one-time courtesy. This will be dismissed as a one-time courtesy. However, future violations will be upheld.”
I do NOT want to be that guy who gets his ticket dismissed as a “courtesy.” If I’m wrong, I’ll pay the damn $68 fine. But I was in compliance, based on the city’s own description of the enforcement standard on an admittedly vague ordinance.
Why couldn’t they just admit I was right? Based on the city’s own enforcement standard, I was in compliance, and had evidence to support it.
You’d think I would have been happy with the dismissal, and sure, I’m glad I saved $68. But I was steamed none the less. I should have beat that ticket on merit, not because they decided to do me a @$%$#& favor.
Here’s where insult gets added to injury:
After Christmas dinner at my mom’s house, we arrived back home to find that our street was packed — lots of people in our neighborhood were having company for the holiday. Every on-street parking spot was full.
And there was one car, parked about 6 feet in front of the hydrant, and another about 6 feet behind it. I didn’t measure. Didn’t have to. They were clearly too damn close.
But there were no tickets on their windshields. I guess the code enforcement guy took that night off.
A belated Merry Christmas to him.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays.