Back-Seat Driver

Are Cal Fire, CHP officers allowed to park illegally downtown?

Is this CHP motorcyclist committing a parking violation? The city says yes.
Is this CHP motorcyclist committing a parking violation? The city says yes.

Are some workers who drive official state vehicles getting away with parking illegally while regular drivers scramble to find scarce parking spots downtown?

A reader last week told us as many as nine Cal Fire vehicles habitually park all day long at one- and two-hour street parking spots adjacent to the state Fire Marshal’s office at 12th and S streets. So we visited one day last week and found four Cal Fire vehicles parked in one and two-hour zones at mid-morning. When we checked again in the afternoon, the vehicles were still parked there. None had been issued tickets.

It doesn’t seem fair if people with official vehicles can do as they please, said reader Steve Peterson.

“This situation makes it tough on R Street and S Street restaurant, retail, and office businesses that rely on the availability of on-street parking to serve their clients and customers,” he said.

City parking chief Matt Eierman said the city typically doesn’t allow state vehicles to get away with flouting the rules that the rest of us must follow. City officers have in fact cited Cal Fire vehicles, at least at times.

But Eierman said city parking enforcement officers do have discretion to not cite illegally parked state and local law enforcement or emergency vehicles if they think those workers may be on an emergency call, or are likely to be headed to one at any minute.

That later part seems a lot of latitude and guesswork.

Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said the state Fire Marshal has previously told Cal Fire employees not to park illegally. McLean said the marshal reminded employees of that again on Thursday after our call.

CHP motorcycle illegally parked

Another reader sent us a photo two weeks ago of a CHP motorcycle parked illegally outside Pronto restaurant in midtown Sacramento. The officer, in uniform, was lunching inside with someone who wasn’t in uniform, our reader said.

The motorcycle was parked in a cross-hatched area near the intersection. City officials say it is illegal to park in that spot. Should he have gotten a ticket? Under those circumstances, yes, city parking chief Eierman said.

Some motorcycle riders disagree. Why not be allowed to slide your motorcycle into a spot that no car otherwise would use? The cross-hatched area doesn’t look like a dangerous spot for a motorcycle, unless a car comes around the corner too tightly.

We sent the photo to CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader. We wondered if the CHP tells officers to keep their motorcycle in sight or a short sprint away. Clader simply said the officer was in the wrong.

“Unless they are responding to a call for service or an emergency incident, CHP officers whether on or off duty are expected to park in a legally marked parking space and obey all parking regulations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that happened in this case. We thank your reader for bringing this to our attention, and we are taking steps to prevent this in the future.”

By the way, some local news media vehicles, including some Sacramento Bee reporter cars, have placards that allow free parking at meters downtown when reporting on city-related news.

That didn’t work for me Friday. After I wrote this story about Cal Fire and CHP, I went to City Hall to interview a city official for an upcoming story on how the city wants to entice more people to come downtown to the waterfront.

I came out of City Hall to find a parking ticket on the windshield of the company car I was using, even though the car had the placard in the windshield. I’ll challenge the ticket and see what happens.