The paper trail seems to paint a picture not of an interfering mayor, but of bureaucratic ineptitude.
The complaint of Willow Street and Alameda Avenue residents is that Willow Avenue between Encinal and Central is so narrow, that to protect their vehicles from being sideswiped, they must park partially on the sidewalk, for which they get tickets.
This reporter, taking pictures for this story, was challenged by a resident for taking a picture of his vehicle parked partially on the sidewalk. He didn’t agree to be quoted by name, but articulated the same complaint that sparked the Mayor’s action – that Willow Street is too narrow and should really be one way, and that he’s left with no choice but to park with wheels on the sidewalk, which earns him tickets.
The trouble for Mayor Spencer started when she responded to a complaint from a resident, Julie Dickens, about the failure of the City of Alameda to act on the issue.
A public records act request resulted in 57 pages of e-mail threads, and photographs of sideswiped cars at the intersection.
On July 6, 2016, Dickens wrote to Spencer, “Mayor Spencer,
“Thank you for allowing me to email you the “Warning” tickets we received yesterday for parking our vehicles on the OVERSIZED sidewalk on Willow Ave, between Central and Encinal Avenues. We have lived on the corner of Alameda Ave and Willow for 6 years. In that amount of time our vehicles have been hit no less than a dozen times. I have called and complained to the past Mayor several times, who put me in touch with public works, who put me “in the que”, yet NOTHING has been done in 6 years. Nothing. I’ve asked for a stop sign on Willow, or better yet, since the street is not legally wide enough (please have someone do some research via the Department of Transportation’s guidelines) to be a two lane street, be a one way street heading towards South Shore.
“I refuse to have our vehicles hit any longer, and we park on the sidewalk. We do not impede traffic on the street or on the sidewalk. And quite frankly, I am tired of being harassed by the police department. My husbands new Ford F150 was also given a warning, but he threw that away, so that is not attached.
Last week, the Dodge was ticketed TWICE…however…the code and notes said he was facing the wrong way on the street, so I turned those tickets in to a detective and said that I’d be more than happy to fight those tickets, however, they need to be issued for the RIGHT REASONS.
“This is getting out of hand…and we deal with it every other year or so. And I’m done. If the Chief would like to come talk to me personally, he can come sit on my porch with me, and after about 5 minutes, he can see exactly why I park on the sidewalk…the dozens of speeding cars that fly down Willow that is just amazing being a 2 way street. The bicyclist not stopping at stop signs. The city need money?? You could make a killing on this corner!
“I appreciate you help…but know that I will never pay a ticket for parking on the sidewalk here…I have every right to protect my vehicle…as so stated in the very code APD is quoting…’except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic’…boom.”
Dickens included pictures of damaged vehicles parked on the street that she said had been sideswiped due to the narrow passage, copies of warning notices she has received, copies of an administrative dismissal of a citation, and copies of her comments to city officials explaining the problem. She said that her parking doesn’t interfere with pedestrian traffic and that she was told by an Alameda officer that’s what really mattered.
She also included a photo of a United States Postal Service vehicle parking on the street.
Spencer responded to Dickens and copied City Manager Jill Keimach, City Attorney Janet Kern, staffer Bob Haun and police chief Paul Rolleri, writing, “Dear Ms. Dickens,
“Thank you for sharing this information, including the warnings and the dismissal. I truly appreciate you taking the time, per my request, after not making progress in the
past six years.
“By copy of this email, I’m sharing your email with Alameda’s City Manager, Police Chief, Director of Public Works, and City Attorney so that they may look into and
address the multiple issues.
“I’m hopeful that the City can make progress on all your concerns this time.”
On July 7, Dickens wrote to the Mayor again, saying, “And this morning…at least 2 vehicles got tickets…for parking on the sidewalk…haven’t seen if my son got one. HARASSED.
“It is NOT illegal to park like this, but harassing your citizens for legal parking is…shall I drop the tickets off to you????”
Spencer forwarded the e-mail to chief Rolleri, writing, “Dear Chief Rolleri,
“Below is an update on the Willow Avenue issue re tickets for parking on sidewalk.
“I’d appreciate your assistance in this matter.”
Rolleri wrote to Dickens, saying, “Ms. Dickens,
“Mayor Spencer forwarded your email to me and I am looking into your complaint. I will be researching your claim about all of the collisions on Willow Street. While I am doing that, I’ve asked my Traffic Unit Supervisor to temporarily suspend writing any additional tickets for the time being.
“The issue you raise about the narrow streets is not a new one. We have had similar issues on Eighth Street and occasionally on Walnut Street. When the Eighth Street problem was at its peak, there was road work being done that temporarily made the issue worse. We had complaints from some about the street being too narrow, but had many other complaints about the cars being parked partially or completely on the sidewalk.
“In many instances, the weight of the cars on the sidewalk, even those partially on the sidewalk, was causing damage to the pavement and cracking utility box covers. We issued warnings and citations in those instances, so you are being treated the same as everyone else.
“Also, while I sympathize with your point of view, I do not agree with your interpretation of the relevant Vehicle Code Section 22500 (f). Those tickets were appropriately issued. Again, I understand your point, but there are other people affected by your decision to park partially on the sidewalk. Within the past week, a citizen in a wheelchair flagged down one of our Parking Enforcement Officers to complain he could not get his wheelchair around one of the cars, or at least had great difficulty in doing so (I don’t know which car). Your concern for your cars does not trump the access rights for our disabled residents.
“The police department is not harassing you. The warnings that were issued were posted prior to issuing any citations, so I’m sorry you are perceiving it that way. APD and the City have an obligation to look out for EVERYONE, not just a few. Additionally, even I we were to allow you to continue to park on the sidewalk, it would create a circumstance where everyone else would feel entitled to do it.
“As far as I know, you are the only person raising this issue on Willow Street with the City. As I said in the beginning of this email, I will look into this and get back to you. However, please do not interpret this temporary suspension of enforcement as permission to continue to park on the sidewalk. Also, sending your tickets to the Mayor is not the
appropriate way to try and resolve your citations. The Mayor does not have the ability to dismiss citations. There is a process in place to contest them, and that process is explained on the back of your citation. I strongly encourage you to follow that process.
“Our Public Works Department handles all matters related to lane markings, signs, and street width. I cannot offer any help to you in that regard, and will allow them to reply to you separately.
“In closing, I assure you that if there is a way to resolve this in a way that works for everyone, I will.”
The 57 pages of documents city attorney’s office provided does not include a record of any public records department communications.
As of early afternoon on Saturday, October 15th, there were three vehicles in the vicinity of Willow Street and Alameda Avenue parked partially on the sidewalk.