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TinotopiaLog → D.C. Goes On Shooting Itself In The Foot ( 5 May 2003)
Monday 05 May 2003

D.C. Goes On Shooting Itself In The Foot

While Mayor Tony Williams makes speeches about how he wants to attract 100,000 new residents to Washington, D.C., the rest of the city’s government goes on giving people more reasons to not come into the city at all, even for a visit. Washington Post:

The District government has begun issuing $100 tickets to vehicles with out-of-state license plates that are repeatedly parked overnight on city streets, under the presumption that they belong to D.C. residents who have not registered their vehicles in the city.

The city patrols the streets between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., and records out-of-state license numbers. If your non-DC vehicle is spotted three times, you get a ticket. The article doesn’t say anything about what happens if your vehicle is spotted in three wildly differing places, but I’d imagine you get a ticket anyway; DC is not known for law-enforcement subtlety.

The purpose is to force Washington residents to comply with the law that says that they’ve got to register their cars with the city within thrity days of moving to DC.

Most places don’t have a problem with people refusing to register their cars locally, but the DC government goes out of its way to make the process as difficult, expensive, and unattractive as possible. (Progress is being made, though: soon there will be two places in the city where you can get a safety inspection done — but still only during business hours Monday through Friday.)

And if you do the right thing and register your car locally, you’re putting yourself at the mercy of the DC government’s mind-boggling incompetence. Not long ago, the city changed its registration-renweal and parking-permit stickers. There was an article in the Post, and the police and parking enforcement people were told about these changes. They went on writing tickets on perfectly legal cars for months, because they were not displaying the old-style stickers and permits.

Noam Stopak, 44, of Bethesda said he visits his fiancee in Northwest Washington at least every other weekend. He said when he got a warning ticket on March 8, he called the DMV to explain that he is not a D.C. resident.

A DMV official told him that it didn’t matter where he lived, he said. “I offered to show them my mortgage, my water bill, and they said it doesn’t matter. They said, ‘You can register your car in the District’ … or I could just stop coming to the District.”

Ah, yes. It’s really a pity that there are not other problems facing the government in DC, like say failing schools, a rising crime rate, or a total lack of civil order in the streets in certain neighborhoods at night. If DC were faced with any of those things, it might not have time and money to waste on discouraging the middle class from visiting the city.

Posted by tino at 13:43 5.05.03
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I was with you right up to the “discouraging the middle class from visiting the city” part — what does being middle class have to do with being inanely ticketed by police? Seems to me that any frequently visiting “outsider,” no matter their class are the victims…

Posted by: Ryan at May 5, 2003 04:19 PM

Well, yes, part of that is just part of my standard frothing-at-the-mouth about the D.C. government. But in any case, poor or rich people visiting the city won’t make any kind of difference. Both the Hay-Adams Hotel and the D.C. Central (Soup) Kitchen are not hurting for customers; it’s the middle-class people who have to be attracted. Even if the tickets are handed out equally to people of all classes, it’s the middle-class that D.C. needs to most avoid discouraging.

One of DC’s biggest problems in general is that it’s chased the middle class out of town through taxes and general incompetence. Tax rates matter less to the poor because they’ve got less money, and the rich can afford to structure their finances in such a way as to avoid bearing the full brunt of the taxes.

The poor can’t afford to leave to escape the general incompetence, and the rich can afford to have lawyers and other intermediaries handle most of their interaction with the D.C. government. Only the middle-class is hit squarely by the D.C. juggernaut.

And, to get back around to the point, I would expect the same to be true of these parking tickets. To begin with, D.C. doesn’t write parking tickets in poor neighborhoods at anything like the rate they do in rich and middle-class ones. There’s a lot more parking available in poor neighborhoods, both because there are a lot more abandoned buildings and because not as many poor people own cars. When people can never find a parking space on their block they tend to call and complain, and I’m willing to bet that nearly all of those complaints come from northwest Washington.

And there’s less of a parking problem in rich neighborhoods, too. Rich people own cars, but even in D.C. they tend to have garages and their houses tend to be farther apart. And should Richie Rich be forced to park on the street while visiting Reggie Van Dough, he’s not going to have to go down to the DMV and argue with them himself; he’ll have someone else do it for him.

So these tickets are more likely to be written in DC’s few middle-class neighborhoods, since that’s where the parking problem is. The middle-class people will have to deal with these tickets themselves, and they’ll get a lot more bitter than someone who just sends the thing to his lawyer. And, worst of all, these are precisely the people that D.C. is currently missing.

Posted by: Tino at May 5, 2003 06:10 PM

Thanks for expanding that thought, Tino… and thanks for bringing the issue up: I didn’t even realize it was happening. That’s what I get for moving so far west of the city. :)

Posted by: Ryan at May 6, 2003 09:41 AM

The supreme irony is that no matter what happens, the problem won’t be solved. The problem is lack of parking in residential areas constructed in an era where car ownership was less common than today. Forcing neighborhood residents to actually register their cars in DC, rather than waiting for their old registrations to expire, won’t change the total numbers of cars that residents want to park in a given neighborhood.

Posted by: RRP at May 7, 2003 08:34 AM