SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — If you get a $74 parking ticket for an expired meter in San Francisco, you may not have to pay all of it if the city’s Treasurer gets his way.
San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros will present the Financial Justice Project to city leaders May 17th. The idea is to give low-income residents more options when it comes to paying fines and fees.
“What we see is someone making a lower income — 15,000 or $20,000 or $25,000 a year — that $200 or more fine is going to hit them a lot differently than some of us who make $80,000 or $100,000 a year or more,” Cisneros said.
“We can’t always pay parking, because we don’t make a lot of money. So basically, every time we park we get parking tickets because we can’t pay the meters. Then we can’t pay the tickets because they’re even more than the meters,” said San Francisco resident Willow Decamp.
Decamp, his wife Bianca Mueller and their two-year-old daughter Ezra moved to San Francisco in September. Starting out they lived in their van. Once they qualified for social services, they started received $700 a month to get back on their feet.
“I get my $700 for the month and $500 of it goes to the MTA. That’s money from the government I now have to give back to the city for my child,” Mueller said.
“In January, we had $1,300 in parking tickets,” Decamp explained.
Now Decamp has a job and the family has moved into transitional housing, but they’re still digging out of a deep parking-ticket hole.
“We owe like $38 to the MTA, so were about to be at even. As far as staying above even? I don’t know how that will go,” Decamp said.
Cisneros says this is exactly why San Francisco’s fee structure needs to change. The Financial Justice Project would allow low-income residents to pay a percentage of a fee. Ideally, the city would be able to confirm someone’s low-income status by registering families to a database.
It’s all hypothetical for now.
“It’s too early to say whether or not we’d support specific concepts coming out of the discussions,” SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said.
He says the MTA is open to hearing suggestions from the treasurer’s office, but asserts Muni already has plans in place to help low-income residents, like a payment plan.
“It is something that’s been in place for a number of years to make sure people who can’t pay right away can pay a little at a time,” Rose said.
Muni also offers people the option to work off fees with community service. Decamp took part in that program, reducing his $1,300 fee to a $300 fee. Rose added if the MTA agrees to these changes, the revenue lost in tickets would have to come from somewhere else.
“To enforce the rules, we have to have the revenue to do that. Some of the fees are meant to pay for enforcement in the city,” Rose said.
San Francisco has the most expensive parking ticket structure in the country. The SFMTA makes $290 million a year in parking fines and fees.
An expired meter ticket in downtown San Francisco costs $74. Compare that to $58 in Oakland, $65 in New York City, $30 in Washington, D.C. and only $25 in Boston.
“It should either be income-based, so people with lower income can at least have something to work with, or if you don’t pay the meter then you pay for the whole day? Maybe even two days. But $70+, that’s 4-5 days of parking. It’s really hard to get ahead when you’ve got to pay parking tickets,” Decamp said.
The Treasurer’s office will present more details publicly May 17th. During that meeting, city leaders will discuss whether a program like this is possible in San Francisco.