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Paradise Marred by Parking Nightmare

Editor,

I am moving to Kauai after living in South Orange County for three years, six months. Prior to moving here, I lived in Northern California, in the Bay Area and the Rocklin/Roseville area.

First of all, this is truly a stunning place. Laguna Beach in particular is one of the most beautiful places anywhere (but you already know that). I have been privileged to live in Laguna for the last 15 months, and it has been quite an experience, mostly good. Love the beaches, the library, the downtown village and the small-town businesses in mid-Laguna and have come to enjoy the fun night spots of Mozambique, Royal Hawaiian and a few others.

The views from the public area fronting the Montage are unbelievable. The fire pits at Aliso Creek beach are a great place to gather (and play drums too).

Before moving here, I was an editor for a special section at “The Sacramento Bee” and have a background in community journalism, communications and Internet management. Then I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and the treatment left me with multiple disabilities. Some of those disabilities affected my memory and cognitive processing. I joke that my brain is now blonde, but it isn’t that funny to live with.

I gave you that background because there is an issue in Laguna that I think detracts from its beauty. It is the parking situation. I parked once near the Montage and bought my parking ticket and put it face down on my dashboard by mistake and then took my dog for a walk. I came back to find a ticket and then figured I could clear it up. My mistake to be so naive. I challenged the ticket at the Laguna Beach Police Department and the parking manager (forgot her name) told me that my appeal would go to a committee and she wasn’t sure they would approve it because “it takes a lot of time to write those tickets.” Call me blonde or whatever, but I found that a little unfriendly. I’m disabled and the $40 ticket was a lot for a person living on long-term disability.

After submitting my appeal (really, you need a committee to see that I had paid for parking when I present the evidence?), I heard nothing. And, so I forgot about it until I found out there was a hold on my car registration for not paying a parking ticket in Laguna. And, then the long downhill journey began. The price had gone way up because I was fined for “not paying.” The DMV said I had to deal with Laguna police about it. I paid my registration but they wouldn’t give me a sticker because of the unresolved issue with Laguna police. So, I contacted the Laguna police again, and they said they had no record of my appeal. I couldn’t find my copy. They insisted they keep good records and that I didn’t appeal the parking ticket at all. I told them (again) that I paid the ticket and that I was disabled and the parking manager said that if I proved my disabilities by doctor’s report they would forgive the fine.

So, I went on my way to get the proof that I’m disabled, but I had to order records from doctors in Northern California that were in storage, so that took a while. Meanwhile, I was stopped three times by the Laguna police for having an expired registration. Only I didn’t have an expired registration, I had a problem with a parking ticket I shouldn’t have been given in the first place. Two officers were quite understanding and sent me on my way. Kudos to them. The third guy had a bad attitude, said he came from a military background (perhaps Marines) and said there was no excuse why I didn’t have a registration sticker. He was so harsh that I started crying (embarrassing, I know) and then put my journalism skills into play and asked to talk to his Watch Commander. Well, that really ticked him off.  The Watch Commander was very kind and told the officer not to ticket me. He also said he was worried about me because I was crying (seems funny now).

It doesn’t end there. Two days later, a tow truck arrives at the top of Morningside Drive where I was living at the time. I had never seen a police officer in the neighborhood before. It was the middle of the night and guess what? They towed my car and impounded it because I didn’t have a current registration sticker. By the way, I had all the paperwork proving I had paid the registration. As you can imagine, the price tag went way up for the “unpaid parking ticket,” plus tow fees and fines.

My patience quota was definitely up. I called the police chief’s assistant and began to complain and pretty much demand that they get my car back to me and forgive the fines and the original parking ticket. Initially, he wasn’t very cooperative. But as the night wore on and we negotiated for about seven hours, he relented. (Aren’t armed hostage negotiations shorter than that?) To get rid of me, no doubt, he did say that he still couldn’t forgive the parking ticket, and it would have to go back to that “wonderful” parking manager who had already caused me a lot of stress while simultaneously insulting me and telling me how much time it took the officer to write the original ticket. Oh, and that I never appealed it because she never loses paperwork. (By the way, I recently found my appeal paperwork and showed it to her. Her response: “Well, you know that’s a done deal.” My response? Nothing. I don’t have the energy to deal with someone with too much power and very little of anything else.

The bottom line is that I paid the parking ticket and the fines (forget how much, but it was worth it to end the insanity), and then I got a surprise letter from the Sacramento office of the DMV saying I owed another $580 for not paying the original parking ticket and having my registration sticker held. I was told I could appeal it and I thought about that for a short time and then decided that the government was really broke and I couldn’t deal with another bureaucrat not getting what happened. I paid the $580, got my registration sticker and have tried never again to be such a big-time lawbreaker by putting a parking ticket upside down on my dashboard.

I know this is a long story, but I promise it is now concluding. Back to the beginning, the way Laguna Beach is dealing with parking is seriously impacting the city’s attractiveness to visitors and residents alike. With the economy the way it is, I suggest that city leaders and the chamber of commerce and others get together and come up with a more friendly way to deal with parking. I know it is a huge revenue source so this is a touchy subject.

One Laguna Beach officer told me the city makes $5 million a year on parking fees and fines. I have not independently verified that information, but it would be interesting for the Indy to find out. That is a huge chunk of change. However, having so many parking monitors patrolling the streets and having policies that squeeze even law-abiding citizens is just over-the-top. Of course, Laguna has a lot of visitors and limited parking, but businesses here are hurting in many cases. I’ve seen a lot of them close in my short time here. I talk to small business owners that are really having a hard time.

There’s got to be a better solution than harassing visitors, and even locals, who are spending money in the city. Why is there a committee to decide whether a parking ticket is valid? Why does Laguna Beach have such a rude and power-hungry and dismissive person in charge of parking? I’m going to guess that if you were flexible and had a heart, they wouldn’t hire you. Sad, but true. Why doesn’t the city take a more customer-friendly approach to parking and enforcement?

Right out of college, I went to work promoting a central California city as a tourism destination. It was a tough job because the city didn’t have much to offer. Laguna Beach has everything to offer, but the atmosphere in town affects its marketability. After I live in Kauai for a year or so, I may come back to the region. I hope y’all have a more friendly approach to this situation. I was only comfortable writing this letter because I’m moving. After the vindictive tow situation, I’ve become a “paranoid” about Laguna Beach officers looking for a reason to harass me.

Please take care of this stunning place. Aloha.

Sharon Fox Stock

Laguna Beach

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