SRJC parking a nightmare for some, a cash cow for others
By Duane De Witt
"THEY PAVED paradise to put up a parking lot," Joni Mitchell once lamented in song. But over at Santa Rosa Junior College the refrain is always the same: "We need more parking." With nearly 30,000 students, the school has a parking shortage that is a major headache for them and a possible impediment to future growth at the school. Also the problem spills over into the surrounding neighborhoods, annoying business owners and residents more than a mile away.
This summer the school is preparing to cut down a stand of pine trees close to adjacent Santa Rosa High School to add 60 more parking spaces, but critics say that will do little to ease the problem.
"The stand of pines is infested with bugs and needs to be taken out," says Nancy Morehead, manager of facilities operations, adding that no redwood or oak trees are scheduled for removal to add the extra parking spaces. To accommodate more spaces in the acres and acres of parking lots on campus, the school is also going to be restriping lots to shrink the space size.
According to SRJC Police Chief Terry Stewart, there are 3,300 parking spaces on campus. Of those, 2,500 are for students and 800 for faculty and staff.
But one nearby resident, John Perpinan, says that isn't enough. He thinks that the school needs to build parking garages on campus to handle the thousands of students who regularly drive to school and clog the local streets, using up limited parking spaces. The problem is complex because the city has made a "residential parking zone" to protect the ability of nearby residents to park by issuing permits to them while limiting everyone else to one-hour parking.
However, Perpinan has had his fill of parking tickets dispensed by the ever-efficient Santa Rosa city parking-control officers who sweep through the residential parking-permit zones around the campus on their daily hunt for offenders. They ticket Perpinan and his family and friends when they overpark the one-hour limit also.
"Homeowners and residents only get two permits," he says, not enough for a family or guests.
He echoes the sentiment of many who think that the city unfairly exploits the situation for financial gain. Many students have also complained over the years because the permit system around the campus is for only one-hour parking while most classes are two hours long.
"The residential parking zones are only put in place when the neighborhood petitions for them," says Bill Gallagher, parking programs coordinator for Santa Rosa. He notes that neighbors around the campus have been complaining about parking for decades and that the residential parking permit zones were enacted in the late '80s to protect the residents.
But Perpinan disagrees, saying the city parking-enforcement program is "extorting" both the students and the residents now in an unfair pursuit of money.
That may be true.
WHILE CITY OFFICIALS claim they don't have the exact figures on revenue from fines in the campus area, the SRJC residential parking zone is the biggest of the city's parking zones and garners the largest amount of fines, according to one city worker, who asked not to be named. City accountant Guy Ross says, "For the entire city, the amount of parking fines revenue for 1998-99 was $547,000. For 1999-2000, the year-to-date total is $423,491."
Perpinan wants to find out just how much money the city is milking from the area. He has been fighting his parking tickets in the court system, saying the fines are unfair because residents were promised exemptions when the zones were enacted. However, a city ordinance regulating the residential permit-parking program states, "A motor vehicle on which is displayed a valid residential parking permit . . . shall be permitted to stand or be parked . . . without being limited by time restrictions. . . . Any vehicle which does not display such a permit shall be subject to the parking regulations and consequent penalties in effect for such area."
But Perpinan is urging students to fight their tickets, too. He wants the city to change the time limits to two hours and give residents more permits for unlimited parking.
"These zones were supposedly set up to help us residents," he says, "not to rip us off with parking fines."
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From the May 18-24, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.