After spending 16 years in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., one of the nicest things about returning home to St. Louis was the ability to get downtown easily for dinners, shows, ballgames and events.
Even while Highway 40 was closed, it was much easier getting downtown here than on a good day in Washington, D.C. In Maryland we used to drive 25 minutes to a Metro station and then take a 45-minute subway ride into D.C.
But our trips to downtown St. Louis have been reduced to just a few times a year thanks to the parking control agents of Mayor Slay’s revenue department. Keep in mind, I have no problem with a ticket for overtime parking or parking in violation of a sign. But here’s the story and I’ll let you decide.
At the urging of a friend last year, my wife drove to the Habitat for Humanity Store at 3763 Forest Park Ave. She did not try and park in front of the store, but went behind the store. There was a small parking lot next to the store, but it was full. Across the alley was a gravel lot with a car parked on it. My wife thought it was an overflow lot for the store.
She parked next to the other car and went into the store. When she returned, there was a parking ticket under her wiper for “parking on an unimproved surface.”
She went back the store and asked the staff if they knew why she got a parking ticket. She was told people parking their cars on that lot have been getting tickets there for some time. Clerks told her the shop had put up signs warning customers to not park on the lot, but the city took them down. I guess the signs were in violation of the sign ordinance.
The City of St. Louis Parking Violations Bureau has two pages on its website on how to pay a parking ticket and what will happen if you don’t pay a parking ticket. It has nothing on how to contest a parking ticket.
My wife called and was told how to contest the citation. The first step was a written appeal. She took photos of the gravel lot and the lack of signs, wrote a letter and mailed it off. While she waited for her reply, she got a letter from the Parking Violations Bureau saying since she had not paid the citation within 15 days, the fine had doubled from $25 to $50.
That letter was followed up with a rejection of her written appeal. Next, she scheduled a hearing.
The hearing was held downtown at 5:30 p.m. My wife was armed with a definition from Black’s Law Dictionary that showed that a graded gravel lot was considered an improvement and a roll of quarters in case she had to park on a meter.
The case was not heard in an open courtroom. People waited in a lobby area and when their case was called they went into a small office with a hearing officer.
My wife presented her case. The hearing officer said he couldn’t consider the definition of an improved surface by a law dictionary. He could only consider the definition under the parking code.
He found her guilty but agreed to waive the late fee and hearing costs if she would pay the original $25 fine. She paid.
The Parking Violation Bureau has sent our household a clear message. They don’t want us spending our money in St. Louis. They have been successful. While we still go to events in the City of St. Louis, we don’t do it nearly as often.
Since then I can count on one hand the times I have gone to an address in a St. Louis business district. Most of the places I went had their own parking facility out of the jurisdiction of the St. Louis Revenue Department.
Now instead of jumping on Highway 40 and being downtown in 20 minutes, my wife and I normally go to dinner or entertainment west of Interstate 270. At least once a week, I sign a credit card receipt at a Chesterfield restaurant.