Merced County supervisors approve increased parking fines

Robert Macias lost most of his left leg in an industrial accident in El Nido more than 24 years ago.

The 52-year-old has a handicap placard on his dashboard, but he pulled his car into a nondisabled spot Tuesday on his way to pay property taxes at the Merced County administration building.

Though he doesn’t always use handicapped spaces, Macias said he supports a new ordinance that quadruples penalties for those who illegally park in a disabled space – soaring from $275 to $1,105. Approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the ordinance also increases fines for other parking citations and vehicle infractions.

“I do support it because there are people out there that really need the parking and can’t walk,” Macias said, adding that people sometimes park in disabled spots without a placard. “There are people that are severely disabled and need it.”

County attorneys said the increases are necessary to bring Merced County up to par with amounts charged by the city of Merced for parking infractions.

The county contracts with the Merced Police Department for parking enforcement at several county buildings, including the District Attorney’s Office, the courthouse and the county administration building on M Street.

The higher penalties are also prompted by increases in state-mandated fines for California Vehicle Code violations, said Assistant County Counsel Richard Flores. A small portion of those penalties go into the county’s general fund, Flores said.

The biggest increases under the new ordinance are those related to prohibited parking.

For example, a citation for parking in a bus zone would increase from $250 to $1,105. Blocking a handicapped space or parking in one would go from $275 to $1,105. Parking over a line next to a handicapped space or near a sidewalk access ramp would also cost $1,105.

Although most of the increases align with the city’s fines, the exception is for parking in a disabled spot. The city charges a $288 fine for the infraction, according to a resolution adopted by the City Council in May 2013.

“That handicapped one is ridiculous,” said 59-year-old Joyce Goodwin on her way to the county library Tuesday. “I understand why they need it, but they should use the money to clean the (library) parking lot.”

Other infractions will cost residents anywhere from an extra $8 to an additional $100. For example, parking over the time limit, blocking a driveway or double parking would be $28. Missing license plates would cost drivers about $197. Parking a commercial vehicle in a residential area would rise from $20 to $43, according to the ordinance.

Regardless of the amounts, Merced resident Emma Walsh said the community can’t afford to pay higher fines.

“How can you raise rates when people here are struggling to pay for a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk?” The 52-year-old said. “Gas prices are high enough as it is. Where does it end? It’s just ridiculous. Life is hard enough as it is.”

Atwater resident David Love said the county should work on enforcing the rules instead of raising fees. “I think the penalties are high enough already and they should be enforcing the ones that they have,” said Love, 68. “If they’re not enforcing the laws on the books, then what’s the point?”

On the flip side, another resident said she understands the need for increased penalties.

Johanna Oliva, 40, recently moved to Merced County and said she’s witnessed many people breaking the rules. She hopes raising penalties will make residents read parking signs carefully and follow the law.

“In a way, I think it’s good because it teaches people,” Oliva said. “It lets people know so they will be more careful. I think it’s good because people are not respecting the law.”

The new ordinance will go into effect 30 days after its adoption on Tuesday.