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Fines take residents and police by surprise

One resident says a parking law on 20th Avenue SE hasn't been enforced in nearly 40 years - until now.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Law trumped custom last week in the Old Southeast neighborhood.

To the surprise of residents used to parking on either side of their streets, a police officer placed about 10 tickets on cars facing the wrong way on 20th Avenue SE between Bay Street and Beach Drive.

The citations carry a $34 fine.

Old Southeast residents for years have parked on either side of their streets and avenues without being ticketed.

"I've lived here for 39 years and have never been told not to do this," said Liz Schroeder.

She and her husband got tickets on each of their two cars.

Police officials say the citations took them by surprise, too.

"That's not normally the way we do things," said Assistant Police Chief Chuck Harmon. "We educate people first and give them a grace period."

But this time, it was a young officer who did the ticketing. He was responding to another officer's request to check out other kinds of parking violations in the neighborhood, said police Maj. Cedric Gordon.

Said Harmon: "It was a fairly new officer who was trying to do the right thing. He has written 60 tickets since the middle of December. The first time we found out was this past Friday" when the 20th Avenue SE residents were ticketed.

The ticketing in no way signifies the start of a citywide campaign, Harmon said.

But the 20th Avenue SE citations won't be waived, Harmon said. He said that's because the officer had written such tickets in the neighborhood for a month, and that to waive any now wouldn't be fair to residents who have paid their fines already.

Schroeder said she and others will fight the tickets.

"I think we were treated unfairly," she said.

"All the people in our neighborhood are ready to take a half-day off and go to court. A ticket (costs) less than taking a half-day ... But it's the whole idea that if (the neighborhood) hasn't been ticketed for 50 years, how can they start ticketing without notification?"

Most Old Southeast streets, including 20th Avenue SE, allow parking on both sides. But the rule of thumb is "right wheel to right curb," Harmon said.

In other words, vehicles are required to be parked in the same direction that traffic flows.

Safety dictates the requirements, Harmon said, because motorists approaching parked cars can more easily spot reflective red taillights than a vehicle's front-end apparatus.

Meanwhile, the ticketing officer, Brandon Stout, will hear from his supervisor, Harmon said.

"Any time there's something we're going to enforce that you haven't typically seen, we'll do an educational process when we can," Harmon said.

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