The Public Eye

Sacramento just issued 1,744 late-night parking tickets. Here’s where ...

Sacramento parking meters are providing surprises for some motorists in the evenings.
Sacramento parking meters are providing surprises for some motorists in the evenings.

Earl Ternus of Dixon parked in downtown Sacramento one night recently to shop at Macy’s and was shocked to find a $42.50 ticket on his windshield for failing to pay the meter.

“I had no idea they were changing (meter hours) to 10 p.m.,” he lamented. “Most cities don’t (charge) after 6 p.m.”

Sacramento’s switch to nighttime metering has produced unpleasant surprises for many. A Sacramento Bee review of citation data found that 1,744 visitors received nighttime tickets for expired meters in November, the first month the city began issuing citations in the evening at expired meters throughout downtown.

That’s 58 parking tickets issued every night. While that sounds like a lot, Sacramento’s chief parking official put a different spin on it when asked by The Bee.

It means that more than 96 percent of drivers who parked at meters at night in November kept those meters fed and avoided getting a citation, parking services manager Matt Eierman said. He said city parking enforcement officers issued thousands of windshield warnings during evenings in September and October to drivers who were failing to pay meters then.

Meter hours officially were extended to 10 p.m. in downtown and to 8 p.m. in a slice of midtown at the beginning of September, but the city held back on issuing citations until November, giving drivers two months to get used to the extended hours.

The total number of expired meter tickets issued by the city in November – 5,125 – was up notably from 4,000 in October when citation-writing stopped at 6 p.m. The November citation numbers were about the same, however, as they were the previous November.

(Those figures exclude warning tickets and tickets that later were dismissed by the city. Sacramento has been citing until 8 p.m. for years at two localized spots, at the California Musical Theatre and in Old Sacramento.)

Arena patrons appear to be getting a share of the post-6 p.m. citations. About 25 percent of all night tickets in November were issued within a one-third of a mile radius around the arena. The Golden 1 Center arena hosted 13 events in November that let out between 9 and 10 p.m. Some of those events attracted as many as 17,500 people.

The worst night for unhappy windshield surprises was Nov. 10. That night the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Kings by 10 points, and parking enforcement officers issued 138 meter tickets, including several dozen on I, J and L streets near the arena.

The Bee’s mapping of November citation locations suggests that most people getting tickets at night are not arena patrons, however. About a quarter of nighttime citations were issued on a handful of blocks in Old Sacramento, and more than one-third were issued on downtown and midtown blocks a good distance away from the arena and Old Sacramento, but often near restaurants, bars and night clubs.

The top ticketing hotspot continues to be the area highlighted by The Bee last month – the diagonal parking spots on Front Street in Old Sacramento between K and L streets.

Old Sacramento District Director Brooksie Hughes said the district’s customers are still getting used to the later hours. Several times, she has stopped people leaving their cars and reminded them to pay the meters.

She said Old Sacramento business owners express concerns about ticketing in general, saying it can dissuade people from return visits. Hughes said she is monitoring it, and hopes fewer visitors will be caught off guard.

“We need to cycle through another couple months and figure out why that might be, and how do we approach it,” she said. “There have been so many changes, we don’t want to jump to any conclusions.”

Other citation clusters include the downtown area near the Crest Theater block of K Street and in midtown. In particular, ticketing was higher near the stretch of R Street at about 14th Street, near the Shady Lady Saloon, Iron Horse Tavern, R15 bar, Burgers and Brew restaurant, and the Ace of Spades nightclub, where concerts often begin as early as 6 or 7 p.m.

The Bee review also shows that meter citations had been declining overall during the past two years.

The peak month for meter tickets in the last two years was February 2015, when parking enforcement officers issued 7,000 tickets. The monthly ticket levels fluctuate over time, but generally dropped to a low of 3,950 two months ago in September.

Eierman said that may be because more customers are using credit cards and paying by phone, rather than fishing for quarters, which allows them to put more time on the meters and avoid having the meter hit zero before they can make it back to their cars.

Recent data show that 37 percent of meter transactions are now done with credit cards, according to Eierman, an option that became available when the city installed “smart meters” two years ago. More parkers also are using the Parkmobile smart phone app, which lets them add extra time on the meters remotely, say from a restaurant.

The city collects $30 out of each $42.50 citation fine. The extra $12.50 goes to the state.

Eierman said the city hopes to see citation numbers drop or level off as more visitors get used to the night metering, and as more of them discover garages to park in if they plan to stay more than two or three hours.

Eierman said the city is still trying to get the word out that it has a new online parking garage reservation system, called SacPark, that allows people to reserve a spot ahead of time at a discount at city garages and a handful of private garages.

Termus, the surprised visitor from Dixon who was ticketed a few weeks ago on his first visit to downtown in months, said he doesn’t think his ticket was fair. He said he didn’t see a 10 p.m. sign on the end of the block where he parked.

“The sign I saw just said it’s two-hour parking and to look at your meters,” he said. He plans to challenge the ticket.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak