Back-Seat Driver

Would you buy ‘insurance’ against getting a parking ticket?

New parking meters near Sacramento's City Hall in Sacramento on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.
New parking meters near Sacramento's City Hall in Sacramento on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.

Would you be willing to buy anti-parking ticket insurance when you park in downtown Sacramento?

That, in a way, is one of the questions Sacramento city parking officials are probing this spring. They’re testing a technology called SpotZone that allows parkers at two-hour meters to keep their cars there longer if they are willing to pay progressively higher prices for extra hours.

The first two hours at the meter cost $1.75 each. That’s the regular price. Hour three costs $3. Every hour after that costs $3.75. You don’t have to walk back to the meter to pay for the extra hours; you pay remotely from your iPhone.

The SpotZone program, if implemented throughout the central city, likely will generate more revenue for City Hall. But city officials say it’s a win for downtown visitors, too, allowing them to spend more time – and money – at downtown businesses and restaurants with less risk of a parking ticket.

One test area is in Old Sacramento near Howard Skalet’s jewelry store. Skalet says parking in old town is often “confuzzling” to out-of-town visitors, some of whom are not even aware that there are parking garages under the freeway.

“I love SpotZone,” he said. “It’s (helpful) to have that third-hour option. If you bring your family down, you are liable to get a ticket because two hours isn’t enough time.”

The other test site is on L Street between 17th and 18th streets in midtown. Only about 85 parkers have paid for extra time during the first month of testing at two sites, said city parking chief Matt Eierman. But there are two more test months to go. Eierman will report the results to the City Council in March.

Dixon train station in limbo

The Dixon downtown train station – the one that no trains actually use – remains caught in an odd legal limbo as federal, state and local officials try to figure out what to do with it.

Dixon used $875,000 in federal transportation grants a decade ago to help build the $1.3 million station in hopes of enticing passenger trains to stop in town. That hasn’t happened yet and likely won’t for years. So Dixon is renting the building to the Chamber of Commerce for $1 a month.

Caltrans officials, though, say the building has to be used for some transportation purpose. Absent that, the city should rent it at market rates and use some of that revenue for transportation purposes.

At Caltrans’ request, Dixon recently did an evaluation of how much rent the city could charge. The analyst, Garland & Associates from nearby Fairfield, was blunt: Downtown Dixon is stagnant economically and it’s not particularly quaint or charming. As for the depot building, it “suffers from functional obsolescence” because it isn’t designed to be an office building.

The bottom line: The annual fair market rent for the building is about $17,000. Dixon officials have submitted that analysis to Caltrans and say they are waiting for the agency to call them in for a meeting. Caltrans officials say they will soon, but declined to say when.

Guns at airports

When flying, it’s OK to pack an empty gun in your checked luggage, but not in your carry-on. The Transportation Security Administration reports plenty of passengers failed to think that through last year. The TSA confiscated 2,653 guns at airport checkpoints, a big increase from the year before. Eighty-three percent were loaded.

Top airports for gun-toting passengers were Dallas with 153, Atlanta with 144 and Houston with 100. Sacramento International came in low in the pack with 21.