- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

D.C. Council members said yesterday that they have no intention of rescinding a measure that allows them to park almost anywhere without getting tickets, even as they passed a budget that includes higher fines for parking violations.
"I think people would rather not revisit this," said Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, who, with Phil Mendelson and Kathy Patterson, voted against the parking privileges in July. "It's not worth spending a lot of time on. Most council members are responsible citizens and don't park illegally."
Mrs. Ambrose said she has received two parking tickets in the past two years and has paid them but remains opposed to special treatment for council members, who are paid a salary of $92,530.
"Members should be treated just like any other citizen," she said.
Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he gets "a lot of parking tickets."
"Most of them I pay. I have the same experience as everybody else. I pay a lot of tickets," the council member said. "The law has been clear forever, that any city employee can park at a meter for free when on official business. But some of these other exemptions I'm willing to live without."
The parking privileges are similar to those enjoyed by members of Congress. Council members on official business may park in "any available curb space," as long as "the vehicle is not parked in violation of a loading zone, rush hour, firehouse, or fire plug limitation," according to D.C. Code.
Mrs. Ambrose said that council members' trips to community meetings, checkups on city agencies and visits to neighborhoods constitute much of their "official business" travel.
Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, who voted for the privileges, said he would vote differently if given the chance.
"I've had time to think about it. It looks bad," he said. "I think a lot of people would vote differently. It was a complete mistake."
But Mr. Fenty agreed with Mrs. Ambrose that the privileges for council members won't be changed anytime soon.
"Unless it's generating revenue or costing us revenue, it's not a priority right now."
Some council members defended the parking privileges as necessary for their work.
"We need them for meetings in a place where it's hard to park, when we are addressing a group of citizens," said council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, who does not own a car but often uses a government vehicle. "I think that the council should have some privileges as far as parking goes."
Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, remains opposed to the parking privileges. The council member said she has received one parking ticket in the past two years and has paid it.
Council member David Catania, at-large Republican, declined to answer questions while preparing for a presentation.
A spokesman for council member Jack Evans said the Ward 2 Democrat has received "a number of tickets over the years and has paid all of them."
The member who had proposed the privileges, Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said they were old news that she didn't want to go into again.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams approved the parking privileges as part of the Technical Amendments Act of 2002, which corrects minor mistakes in numerous bills that have been passed during a session.
Williams spokesman Tony Bullock said that the parking privileges for council members did not really belong in the act, but that the mayor could not veto them because he does not have line-item veto power.
"If he vetoed that package, he would have disrupted a lot of other legislation," Mr. Bullock said.
"It's not like the mayor thinks this is a good idea. I think he recognizes that people should be responsible to park legally," he said.
Mr. Bullock also said council members could change the legislation if they wanted to.
"The council can undo what they've done if they think it's not appropriate," Mr. Bullock said.
Yesterday, the D.C. Council passed a $5.5 billion budget for fiscal 2003 that included an increase in fines for parking violations.
Fines for four violations will increase by $10, which will produce an additional $8,541,644, according to the proposed budget support act.
Fines will increase from $20 to $30 for parking in an alley, disobeying an official sign, parking in a no-parking zone and parking for more than two hours in a residential parking area without a permit. An expired-meter ticket will increase from $15 to $25, and a commercial bus or sightseeing vehicle parked in front of a residence or another restricted space will jump from $20 to $500.
The last time parking violation fines were increased was in 1990, when fines for 12 nonmoving violations went up, most of them by $15 to $25. Before that, harsher parking fines were implemented across the board in 1985. Then, as now, the city said higher fines were meant to discourage violations, not raise revenue.
Though many council members said they didn't fully support increasing fines for violations, the vote passed.
Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, said the issue is "moot" at this point.
"We voted on it. I don't like it, but I don't like a lot of things in this budget," he said.
Council member Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, agreed.
"There are some things in this budget I would not have supported if they were introduced to us initially, and this parking-ticket increase is one of them," he said.
The increases come at a time when the city faces a $323 million shortfall.
The new fines will go into effect after Congress approves the city's budget, which the D.C. Council sent to Capitol Hill yesterday.
Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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