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Explain Costly Parking Permits

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Santa Fe’s parking division has just announced it’s going to start charging residents in selected areas of the city for the privilege of parking on the street in front of their own houses.

The affected areas are likely to be those residential areas near traffic magnets — the judicial complex and the State Capitol are two such — where on-street parking is already restricted to residents, who currently receive free permits from the city.

The city came up with the permit system because, for example, the hundreds of people daily with business at the Roundhouse were taking up all the available free parking in the surrounding neighborhoods. Over at the judicial complex, lawyers and members of the public, panicked by the pitiful lack of parking around the complex, took to parking on nearby residential streets wherever they could in order to get to court on time.

The result: Until the permit system was initiated, residents returning from work or a short trip to the store often found they had to park blocks away from their front doors.

The city now says enforcing the free permit system is too expensive, and so people who live in the affected neighborhoods will have to fork over money — $25-$35 a year, plus a $21 fine if they don’t also return their current free parking permits — if they want to be sure there’s going to be a parking place in front of their houses.

What parking division officials seem to be saying, in effect, is this: “We aren’t going to provide an essential public service anymore unless the individuals being served pay us money up front.” In some circles, that’s known as extortion; in others, it’s characterized as a protection racket.

Before the City Council rubber-stamps this new pay-to-park scheme, councilors should demand that the parking division explain what’s so costly about a couple of division employees cruising a few streets around the Roundhouse or the judicial complex and writing a few tickets, especially when they’re doing that cruising in hyper-efficient scooterlike vehicles.

Better yet, let city parking officials also explain why the division collects only 16 percent of parking fines owed annually, when other cities generally manage to garner at least 50 percent.

Or why the sale of long-term parking permits in city-owned garages — surely far more lucrative than the sale of a handful of cheap residential permits — stopped years ago, despite an abundance of empty parking space in those very same garages.

Finally, let these same parking officials explain to the taxpaying, law-abiding public why the amount of unpaid parking fines — much of it owed by a relatively few big-time violators, some of whom have even been publicly identified — routinely runs between $600,000 and $1 million or more a year.

That amount alone would cover a whole lot of parking enforcement costs, and not just in a relatively few residential-permit-only neighborhoods.

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