Parking Lot Blues
Is there anything more frustrating than returning to your car after running an errand and finding a parking ticket?
That happened to me recently in the Walmart parking lot on Dunvale. Spotting a police officer sitting on a nearby motorcycle, I walked over to him with the ticket, convinced I’d done nothing wrong. I asked him why I’d gotten it.
“Open it up and find out, lady,” he told me in a distinctly unsympathetic tone.
I did and was shocked. No. 21 on the pink slip listing all the violations was circled: “Parked in handicapped zone.” The current fine was $205, or a staggering $410 after 45 days.
At the bottom of the pink slip, under “Notes,” the officer wrote: “No permit displayed. Signs posted.”
But there’s no sign here, I told the officer, pointing out that there was no notice on the pole in front of where my car was parked. Look on the pavement under the car, he retorted. I did, and he was right. Somehow, I hadn’t even noticed the large wheelchair-shaped drawing on the pavement when I pulled in behind a woman leaving the spot earlier.
Still, it seemed unfair to give me a ticket when the warning sign on the pole was missing. When several friends agreed with me, I decided to take photos of the parking spot, go to the City of Houston Municipal Court at 1440 Lubbock and plead my case.
I wasn’t at all confident about the outcome — and I took my checkbook just in case. Having never tried to contest a parking or traffic ticket before, I’d heard people talk about going to court and waiting for hours to see a judge, only to end up having to pay up anyway. The cop had told me the city was cracking down on handicapped parking violations, and gave me no reason to think I had any chance of fighting the ticket.
But I found out in a phone call to the court that the process could be a lot easier than I’d always thought. I was told that a “hearing official” could see me after about a 10-minute wait if I showed up in mid-afternoon, a slow time at court.
That’s what I did, and my case was resolved in less that half an hour. When I showed the official my photos, he immediately said “dismissed,” wrote on an Administrative Hearing Request and Record the words “not liable” and stood up. Without a sign on the pole, he said, I couldn’t be charged. That’s the law.
I was ecstatic, not only because I wasn’t out $205, but also because I felt I’d won a moral victory. I wanted to hug the guy, but he was all business, so I just reached over and patted his hand and thanked him.
“You’ve made my day!” I told him.
It’s a wonderful feeling to know that sometimes you can fight city hall and win.