Amnesty Month Is Allowing Parking Ticket Scofflaws to Pay Up at a Big Discount

Times Staff Writer

Michael Tucker went off the lam Monday and turned himself in.

Tucker is no hardened criminal, nor even an impish troublemaker. A mild-mannered, 27-year-old San Diego State college senior, Tucker is a scofflaw who owed the city of San Diego $900 in parking tickets.

But on Monday, as the young man approached a window at the city's operations building with his confession, Deputy Fran Coppage--deputy city treasurer Coppage, that is--gave him a break. Tucker paid not $900, but $400--and voila! His record of 29 outstanding parking citations had been cleared.

The law overturned? Not quite. Just temporarily overlooked.

June is Amnesty Month for drivers with delinquent parking tickets. San Diego parking offenders like Tucker can pay their original fines without the late-payment penalties, city officials say.

"Most people have been very relieved to have cleared their records by paying only a small part of what they would have owed," said Vykki Mende Gray, parking citation administrator. "We have a pretty stiff penalty schedule."

500,000 Tickets Are Written Annually

The city issues some 500,000 parking tickets annually. While it is uncertain exactly how many people have delinquent parking tickets, 142,575 vehicles have at least one outstanding citation, Gray said. And some 40,000 San Diego residents who have at least three overdue tickets received flyers advertising Amnesty Month.

All in all, said Gray, 268,632 parking tickets--$13 million worth in original fines and late-payment penalties--have not been paid.

City parking administrators say they are hoping the amnesty offer will bring in as much as $1 million in unpaid fines. According to Gray, some 5,000 delinquent tickets were paid during the program's first two weeks, netting more than $100,000. Most offenders are expected to wait until the end of June to take advantage of the offer, she said.

"I expect we'll make a substantial dent" in the $13 million owed, Gray said. "I don't think there's any way we could ever collect all of it."

For offenders, the advantages are simple: Drivers can clear their records by paying about half of what they owed. Last week, one man came clean of 86 tickets. Another, with more than 70 citations and fines for about $2,300, on Monday paid $1,000 under the amnesty offer, Coppage said.

'Beginning to Get Worried'

"I was definitely beginning to get worried," said Tucker, who collected the tickets while parking near the SDSU campus. He received his 29th citation last Thursday. "The more tickets I got, the less I wanted to take care of them."

For Vicki Wilson of Pacific Beach, who unknowingly received several tickets, the amnesty offer was a blessing. Wilson, a 36-year-old bartender, discovered she couldn't re-register her 1980 Datsun because she had a few year-old parking citations.

"It must have been my roommate or son. They forgot to tell me about the tickets," Wilson said.

She paid $49 to clear $118 worth of outstanding fines and penalties.

But like most good deals, this one ends soon. Beginning in July, parking officers will carry hand-held computers that within minutes can determine if a car has five or more tickets, the legal minimum for impoundment. If it does, it may be towed immediately.

Normally, a driver can collect 20 tickets before the car is impounded, Gray said.

And for those drivers who collect citations on their junkers and then seek refuge in a second, more luxurious car, take heed, Gray warned. If city parking controllers determine a driver has five or more citations on one car and they can't locate it, they'll have the other car towed.

"If we're out looking for a car and we can't find the one we want, we'll tow the one we can find," Gray said. "We see so many different games. I think these measures will help people to take (parking violations) more seriously. Now they won't be able to put off paying as easily."

That message apparently came loud and clear to Michael Tucker. After the student paid his fines, Coppage, foreshadowing the automatic impounding program and crackdown on parking ticket scofflaws, gave him a warning: "Be careful, because you're not going to get away with this again."

Responded Tucker: "I'm not going to try."

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