by Robert A. Thurman
photography by Jason Cooper
“It is just so frustrating; I feel like it is just a waste of my money!” This statement comes from Danielle Vernetti, 21, after realizing she received yet another parking ticket while parked near the corner of B Street and Bonita Avenue adjacent to the University of La Verne campus. A senior at ULV and a resident assistant for the Brandt Hall dormitory, Vernetti received a $30 parking ticket from the La Verne Police Department for violating La Verne Municipal Code 10.76.050B, parking on the street without a preferential parking permit between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Vernetti admits she received at least 10 tickets while attending ULV but claims she was confused by the permit parking sign.
“I have been here for four years, and it was not until this year that I have received so many parking tickets,” she says. “I have seen the parking sign that said, ‘Permit Parking Only,’ and since I had a ULV permit, I thought it was all right to park here. I didn’t know it meant a preferential parking permit. Many students could become confused by that.” Vernetti is not the only one who has received a parking ticket for an on-campus infraction. The University has had a constant parking problem for sometime.
According to LVPD statistics, 5,946 parking tickets were handed out last year alone. Four hundred and seven of these citations were for parking without a preferential parking permit in residential areas.
“A majority of the tickets on campus come from residential parking violations,” says Bill Witzka, LVPD police officer in charge of parking enforcement. “A lot of the students get confused with which is school parking and which is city. They think that if they have a ULV parking permit, they can park within the preferential parking zones.”According to Witzka, the preferential parking permit was enforced nearly five years ago when the LVPD started receiving calls from residents complaining that they could not park in front of their own homes because students were taking up space. Today, residents still call the LVPD, begging them to ticket students who park in front of their homes.
La Verne citizen Elias Castro is one of the neighborhood leaders who complained about the lack of parking in front of his home. Castro, a fourth generation La Verne resident who now resides on the 1500 block of Third Street, grew up on the 1800 block, adjacent to the University. He says that when he visited his elderly mother at the family home, he was frustrated by the University’s cars spilling into the neighborhood.”I would stop by my mother’s house every evening, and there would be no place to park,” says Castro. “So what we had to do was go around the back, unlock the gate and park in the back. So, for my sister or any other company that would come by, there would be no place to park, so they would have to park on the 1700 block and walk. It was a real inconvenience.”
Castro soon discovered that other neighbors in the area had the same problem. Consequently, he and his neighbors signed a petition to propose parking permit zones and then presented it to the City Council. The city approved, and the parking permit zone signs were put up in the neighborhood.”I have no problems with the University. I personally feel very close to the University, growing up in its shadows,” says Castro. “I feel that it is a great asset to the community, and without the University, there would be no La Verne.”
Even though preferential parking violations are a major problem for ULV students, the single largest money maker for the city is violators of La Verne Municipal Code 10.40.210, overnight parking. Last year 3,758 citations were issued for overnight parking violations, and three months into 2003, 1,413 overnight parking citations were already written. Between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., overnight parking throughout the city of La Verne is prohibited without a $2 overnight parking pass. The city allows a 30-minute cushion—a vehicle can be parked between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. for a maximum of 30 minutes without a permit. However, for students living in the Studebaker-Hanawalt and Brandt Hall dormitories, the issue of overnight parking is confusing. According to Brian Worley, ULV director of facilities management, C Street south of Bonita Avenue is a safe zone for overnight parking. It is easy to see how students could get confused about where to park overnight on campus; the only information signs stating La Verne’s overnight parking policy are at city entrances. The LVPD claims it has no way of separating ULV student overnight violators from La Verne resident violators. Ernie Granillo, ULV mail clerk in the Student Center, says he receives 20 pieces of mail in an average week for parking violations. “I see ticket payments come in every week without exception,” says Granillo. “A high percentage of people tell me that their ticket was for overnight parking violations.”
ULV students are finding ways to outsmart the LVPD and Campus Safety. For violating vehicle code section 22507.8(A), parking in a handicapped parking space without a handicap permit, the fine is the steepest out of them all: $330. This vehicle code requires that a handicap sign must be posted and painted on the ground. If one is present without the other, the LVPD cannot cite the vehicle. During the academic year, the handicap signs in front of the Arts and Communications Building were constantly disappearing. “It doesn’t surprise me,” Witzka says. “People always try to find any way to get around the law. But it is considered theft, and if caught, they could be prosecuted by the law.”
It is a misconception that getting a ticket from ULV Campus Safety officers is like being pulled over by a senior citizen community volunteer. The LVPD trains ULV security in ticket processing. Campus Safety has the power to cite vehicles for 20-minute parking violations, permit parking violations and handicap parking violations. Even though Witzka and the LVPD take the issue of parking and law enforcement seriously, Campus Safety tries to be more understanding to faculty and students. Henry Negrette, 20-year ULV Campus Safety agent, says that the tickets given out daily can vary from two to 25, but he does admit that he tries to cut the students some slack. “I hate to give students tickets,” says Negrette. “When people park in the 20-minute parking zone, I might come back and check it 30 or 35 minutes later, because I know students can’t always afford the $20 fine.”
Of note, out of all the revenue that comes from the various parking citations, including those that take place on the ULV campus, not one cent comes back to the University. Director of Campus Safety John Lentz claims there is one reason Campus Safety is still determined to patrol and ticket students even though the revenue goes to the city and not the University: compliance. “The school gets no money for tickets; the city gets the money. But we’re not after this for the money. The major issue is compliance,” says Lentz. “The concept is compliance of the law, and if people were aware of the consequences, then maybe they would think twice.”
Dr. Tom Harvey, La Verne City Council member and ULV professor of educational management, says he does not see a problem with the revenue stream. “I don’t see a problem with it at all, because we have to pay for our officers and the police department,” Harvey says. “They [students] are a part of the city also. If you get ticketed, you get ticketed because you are not on private property. You are on public lay way.” According to Ronald Clark, city of La Verne finance officer and deputy treasurer, all traffic violations go into a Traffic Safety Fund, which includes money from DUI and other vehicle storage release, parking violations, vehicle code court fines, interest income and other vehicle fees. The estimated revenue from parking violations totals $145,000. Clark says he has no way of separating revenue from parking violations on the ULV campus from the rest of the city. Clark does not have an opinion about where he thinks the money should go.”I’m here to protect the city, not the University, when it comes to revenue,” Clark says. “My department just collects the money and accounts for it.”
The issue of parking citations and revenue is a symptom of a larger problem: lack of parking. There are simply not enough parking spaces to accommodate the number of students and faculty, who often circle the parking lots for a space. La Var Williams, junior business administration major residing in the Oaks residence halls, says that peak congestion times exist. “The times between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. are the worst,” Williams says. “Sometimes it could take me up to 30 minutes to find a space when I’m going to my room, and sometimes I might even have to park across the street from the old post office or even in the parking lot on B and Bonita.”
Worley says students may find it most difficult to park during the busiest times of the day, which are between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m.
He says the parking problem on campus can be resolved with a little exercise. “The problem is that students want to park close to their classes,” Worley says. “Virtually anytime, if you know where to park, and you are willing to walk a bit, there are spaces available. I have never seen the First and E streets parking lot full.” Worley notes that the parking situation on campus is minimal compared to larger universities. He believes it is based on students’ perception of the problem. “But just go over the hill to Cal Poly, Pomona and see their parking situation. Go to any large institution, and your class could be anywhere from a mile away from where you parked. Everything is just a matter of perspective.”
The amount of cars spilling into residential neighborhoods has caused the University to formulate plans for additional parking. According to Hal Fredericksen, city community development director, the city and the University are working together to resolve the parking situation, and, contrary to what many might believe, they have a very strong working relationship. “I don’t think that there is any conflict at all between the University and the city,” Frederickson says. “In fact, if anything, we use a word called partnership a lot, and a partnership is really important. The University has its goals, and the city has its goals. The University’s goals are to grow and be as successful as possible, not only as an institution, but as a business. The city has a responsibility to its residents and to our business community in Old Town La Verne. But with most of the things that we do, we make sure they are consistent with the needs of all three.”
City code requires that a business must have enough parking to accommodate its customers. With the constant flow of traffic circulating around campus, the business merchants downtown often complain to the city that their customer parking spaces are taken up by ULV students. But according to Harvey, while downtown merchants complain about student parking, they also benefit from it. “A good source of the businesses’ revenue comes from the students, and during the summertime, a lot of businesses are hurting because students aren’t here,” he says. “So they complain about the parking, but they want the students to come anyway. It is a bit of a paradox.”
The parking epidemic, says Harvey, is not new to ULV and the city, though, in past decades, it was not as bad, even when the University began overflowing with students. Harvey says the problem did not get out of hand until ULV began to expand significantly. “In ‘81, we started having some parking problems. We started expanding, but not too bad, until Steve Morgan got here,” Harvey, says. “Then he started expanding the University to become a tremendous success, but with it came a parking problem. More students came. In turn, there began to be more and more parking problems, so we are a captive of our own success.”
As ULV further expands, it must have adequate parking to accommodate its growth. The city code requires that ULV have a three-to-one student parking ratio, meaning one parking space for every three additional students and a one-to-one staff parking ratio. Student residents call for a two-to-one resident ratio—one parking space for every two beds. The city and the University assume that not every student will be on campus at the same time in the day and that not every student living in campus housing has access to a vehicle.
To cut down on cars, promising plans are in the works for ULV. According to Fredericksen, the first phase of Goldline, a light rail transit facility similar to a trolley, is supposed to open sometime this year. The track will run from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Pasadena. Commuters should not plan on saving money on parking tickets just yet, since the cost to complete this process will be approximately $1 billion, and it could take up to 10 years before it reaches its terminus in Claremont.
Perhaps a simple solution is that students who live near the campus could ride their bikes instead of driving everyday. Indeed, Worley says he noticed more students riding their bikes on campus this year than he has seen in a long time. But the University is far from assuming a bike culture; there is a dearth of on-campus bicycle racks, and the over flow commuter parking makes it quite clear that ULV students were born into the car era. Another solution might be to build another parking lot. But with that comes more problems, including finding available space and gaining the money. According to Worley, in 1999 the University and city considered building a parking structure on the tennis courts at D and Second streets. They planned to build the tennis courts on top of the structure or move them altogether. Other suggestions include the creation of carpool programs or utilizing the Fairplex parking lots and shuttling students to ULV. Worley believes the latter is the most likely direction the University will move, considering the cost to build a parking structure tops $2 million. “Parking structures are one of the hardest things to finance,” Worley says. “And even if we did charge people to park at the University, with the amount of money we would charge, you could only imagine how long it would take to generate $2 million to build a parking structure. It could take a long time.”
Nevertheless, the possibility of students and faculty paying for parking permits fall 2003 is a reality. Lentz has implemented a $10 parking fee each semester. He says the parking permit revenue will go into the Rideshare Program, which would reward students who practice carpooling or use public transportation to get to campus. The Lentz proposal hints that future parking permit fees could possibly be structured according to convenience. Centrally located spaces on campus could be more expensive. Permits to use spaces located on the campus boundaries, such as the parking lot on E and Second streets, could be less expensive. Some students feel that paying for parking permits would be acceptable if there were guaranteed spaces for residents living in the dormitories. “If we have to pay for parking, then they should be able to guarantee us ample parking,” says Demetric Brown, junior computer engineering major. “We should have a parking permit with a number on it that reserves our parking space, and no commuters should be allowed to park in front of the dorms. Let them park in the street or in front of their classes, because they are only here for part of the day anyway.”
Even the free permit system had its firm adversaries, though. Eric Bishop, director of academic advising and enrollment management, does not support the parking permit system and has gone as far as boycotting it by refusing to park on campus for a year-and-a-half. “I never understood the rationale,” Bishop says. “We don’t charge for parking; we don’t have designated parking spaces; we don’t issue citations for parking without a sticker. It’s impractical because there is very little visitor parking on campus. It is not clear for visitors, and there is not always someone in security to issue a visitor permit. We have 20-minute parking on campus, but sometimes peoples’ business could take longer than 20 minutes.”
Parking on campus has become a growing thorn in the sides of commuters, residents, faculty and the city. But then there are those who believe it is better to have a parking problem than not to have one. “When I first moved to this community in 1975, the University was quite smaller, and the downtown was sleepy,” Fredericksen says. “My buddies and I made a point one night to play cards in the middle of D Street, because we could; all the businesses were dead. Having a parking problem is a good thing; it is a lot better than having a street where you can play cards in the middle of it if you wanted to. The only thing worse than a full parking lot, is an empty one.”