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Outrage after police issue parking tickets to mourners honoring fallen Marine

Residents lined the streets as the funeral procession for Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley arrived at the Clairemont Mortuary.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego officials scrambled Wednesday to respond to backlash from the public over 35 parking citations the city gave to people trying to honor a fallen Marine on Tuesday morning.

Criticism on social media quickly prompted Mayor Kevin Faulconer to announce the tickets would be rescinded, but city officials were unsure exactly how to handle that. Two vehicle owners had already paid their $65 fines online.

The backlash focused on why the city would ticket people waving American flags and lining the funeral route of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, who died April 3 in a helicopter crash near El Centro.

City officials defended the parking enforcement agents who issued the tickets, explaining they were unaware of the funeral procession, which traveled from Miramar National Cemetery through La Jolla and Clairemont.

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So the agents ticketed 35 vehicles parked on Balboa Arms Drive in Clairemont, which is located near where the route ended at Clairemont Mortuary on Mount Abernathy Avenue.

“If there was an informal notification on the part of the mortuary, the organizers or the procession, we would have worked to accommodate that and been sensitive to it,” said city spokesman Anthony Santacroce. “This wasn’t a draconian thing where they were going to get a ticket either way.”

Santacroce said criticism on social media was the first city officials heard of the situation, and the mayor immediately posted on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon that the citations would be voided.

“San Diego supports its heroes,” Faulconer tweeted. “Due to the special circumstances of today’s memorial service, those who received parking citations this morning on Balboa Arms Dr. will have their tickets rescinded. The City of San Diego salutes Marine Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley and his family.”

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Santacroce said the two people who already paid their fines would get refunds. City officials also made sure Wednesday that none of the people ticketed would receive citations in the mail.

Officials were also exploring whether to send letters explaining the situation to all 35 people who were cited, he said. Some might wonder why they never got a mail citation after finding one on their car.

“We don’t want there to be any prolonged confusion or stress on the parts of the participants,” Santacroce said.

The initial criticism on Twitter evolved into a debate about which types of events are significant enough to warrant suspension of parking restrictions — and significant enough to warrant criticism of the city if tickets end up getting issued.

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“What if — just as a thought experiment — the event was a memorial for a man shot by police, like Alfred Olango in El Cajon, and tickets were given out,” asked Twitter user John Sepulvado. “Or say a memorial for a homeless man attacked and killed.”

Santacroce said he doubted the procession for Holley would have qualified for a city special event permit, characterizing it as more of an informal exercise of free speech.

But he said those involved could still have given the city a heads up about the procession, which lasted from roughly 10 to 11 a.m.

Santacroce said the tickets, which were for street sweeping violations, were also the result of unfortunate timing.

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The south side of Balboa Arms gets swept once a month, on each third Thursday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Before the sweeping vehicle comes through, a parking enforcement officer from the city’s Transportation and Stormwater Department comes through the area and tickets any cars parked there.

Those agents, who drive pickup trucks, are different than the parking enforcement agents that ticket vehicles for meter violations and other offenses, who drive small vehicles sometimes called jitneys.

If the city had been notified about the procession and alerted street sweeping crews, they could have adjusted their route, and they certainly wouldn’t have written any tickets, Santacroce said.

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Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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