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Why Mayor Slay Has Me Spending More Money in Chesterfield than Downtown

A $25 parking ticket for parking on a gravel lot behind a charity store is keeping me in West County.

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.

James Perky March 21, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Certainly this incident is absurd and annoying, and parking issues in the city can be quite difficult and frustrating. To abandon one's commitment to the city, however, because of one $25 parking ticket suggests that you weren't all that into supporting the City of St. Louis and it's independent shops, businesses, and restaurants in the first place.
Dawn Runge March 21, 2011 at 11:11 PM
This happened to myself and several other volunteers on the same lot! We spend several hours volunteering at the Habitat Store , and also thinking that it was the overflow lot (as there were NO signs, and had every appearance of a parking lot). After coming out, our 4 cars of volunteers each had a ticket. This is obviously a trap situation- at the very least Habitat should warn those trying to help by patronizing their store with a sign of some sort. This is ridiculous!
Tim Renaud March 24, 2011 at 03:45 AM
I experienced a similar situation and agree with the author. I recently moved to west county mainly better schools after living 5 years in dogtown. I believe whole heartedly that a vibrant urban core is key to our regional health but the city's parking ticket revenue machine cannibalizes the business environment downtown where many are hanging on by a thread. Blaming Slay may not be entirely fair but the point is spot on. City hall should create a welcoming feeling likeyou find in tourist destinations but instead they pick your pocket.
Tom March 25, 2011 at 04:18 PM
$25 would be considered cheap parking in most cities. Any no parking areas should be clearly marked, but the concept of driving into the city and it not being a hassle or expense is off base. The more vibrant the city is, the harder it will be to take this Midwest mentality of having to have your car right at side at all times. The real answer here is to have mass transit that is more accessible. One of the big benefits of an urban setting is being liberated of a car, but this is a concept that is lost on way too much of this region. It's pretty sad that the response to a parking ticket is to have a temper tantrum and then publish it in order to try to convince people to not patronize the city. A letter to the powers that be noting the harsh injustice of the situation (so they could perhaps improve the situation) may be appropriate, but this attack on the entire City as an entity is a little childish. And as a side note: you almost never beat a parking ticket. The fact that they knocked off the late fee is victory.

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