$1900 in San Francisco parking tickets on a <$1900 car
June 20, 2006 4:06 PM   Subscribe

My sister has $1900 in San Francisco parking tickets. What do I do?

My sister's finally trying to make a stable life for herself, get a job, etc. (She's 23). She's been making a lot of personal progress, and has returned to San Francisco to that end. In the past, she's had a few outstanding parking tickets that I've paid to help her on her way, but I just called in and found a $1900 outstanding balance.

This is beyond my means, my parent's means, and definitely beyond her means to pay. Suggestions? I'm not very familiar with San Francisco law, but I'd like to confront her about this with at least some ideas in mind as to how to get out of this hole, instead of just making her feel defensive. Can she get rid of this with community service, or a payment plan, or anything like that? If she gets another, her <$1900 car will get booted, and she will have a much harder time getting work and trying to stabilize her life.

posted by sdis to Law & Government (15 answers total)
My thinking would be that your sister, not you, needs to call the SFPD traffic division, explain herself, and negotiate a way to make amends on her own. It sounds as though she's trying to grow up a little later than it was expected of her, well, here's a nice little taste of what her lifestyle (whatever that may be) up to now has really meant.

In the end, they want your money, so I'd think the SFPD would be willing to work something out, but if she waited until nearly $2 grand into this to start, they might not be so lenient. But that's where I would start. If she can work out a payment plan with them, you and your parents and whomever can help out with getting the money, but I'd put the onus of first action directly on her shoulders.
posted by andifsohow at 4:15 PM on June 20, 2006

There is a program in San Francisco called Project 20 where she could convert some of the money she owes into community service - but I'm pretty sure she'd have to work a very long time to get through $1900. There is information on how to get started there - as well as make payment arrangements here
I got myself into a similar hole at about her age. The best thing you can do for her is to help her find a paid parking place near where she lives so that she doesn't get herself in this position again. I didn't do this when I first moved to SF - thinking it was "too expensive". I quickly learned that the parking tickets that become an unavoidable part of street parking in the city are way more expensive long term.
Also - I'd bet the insane total here is more a factor of escalating late fees and the like. You need to convince her that avoidance just makes things worse. Even when you are young and poor you can usually scrape together 30 bucks - it gets harder as these tickets escalate to hundreds of dollars fairly quickly. I can tell you from experience here that she won't learn this if you pay these tickets for her. Loan her some of the money if you want - but she has to take some responsibility or this behavior is unlikely to change.
posted by Wolfie at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2006

While this won't solve the immediate problem, does she need to own a car?

I got a lot of tickets here in SF and once I could no longer afford them and the cost was far outweighing the usefulness of the car itself I sold it.

It was absolutely the best decision I feel like I ever made in my life. I knew the car stressed me out but I didn't realize how much until I was still waking up with "Oh shit, my car was towed again!" nightmares after I had sold it. It seriously took about a month before I could really enjoy the fact that I didn't have any car troubles looming, the burden of the car had become so natural-feeling.

She has my sympathy and I wish her luck.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:23 PM on June 20, 2006

DON'T PARK IN THE CITY (park off the streets). When there are that many tickets on a car, she simply cannot afford to take the chance that she could get booted/towed. From my own experience with Boston's parking folk, they don't make "deals" or work with you to create an installment plan. They're not a credit agency.

But know this: once the car is towed, kiss it goodbye. Every single day the car is in the impound lot, there's an additional "storage fee" that's pretty substantial. It'd be like getting ticketed every other day (or worse). Basically, if she's not able to pay the tickets off now, she certainly won't be able to do it once the car is in their possession. Don't let them get their grubby paws on it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 PM on June 20, 2006

Alternative Payment:
If you cannot afford to pay your parking fines, you may be eligible to perform volunteer work by enrolling in “Project 20,” a community service program to work off the parking fines.

If she has a case she can also protest the tickets - or at least a couple of the high ones. If she gets to a judge, more often than not they are dismissed. But, you better have an actual story.

On preview: everything Wolfie says.
posted by vacapinta at 4:24 PM on June 20, 2006

She should sell the car and pay the tickets with the money.
posted by Nelson at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2006

The question that you posed on the front page is "what do I do?" You do nothing until you are explicitly asked by your sister for help. If she is indeed straightening up and flying right, then she will sort out the problem without your assistance.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:39 PM on June 20, 2006

If she is actually living and working in San Francisco the city then she can easily function without a car. Millions of people do so every day in that city, and in fact life is a lot easier there not having to constantly worry about parking. Now if you mean "the greater SF bay area" then possibly it makes things a little harder if she lives out in the burbs, but it is still possible. I would seriously consider getting rid of the car, as she can use the money to help pay off the fines, and she has proven that she is not yet ready to deal with car ownership.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:13 PM on June 20, 2006

I second Nelson's suggestion.

I've been in SF seven years without a car. My apartment is all the lighter of crap for it. I'm in better shape than ever. I paid of all of my consumer debt by moving to the most expensive city in the country and not owning a car.

Public transit isn't fantastic here, but have you ever been to Birmingham, Alabama? Atlanta, GA? Huntsville, AL? Or any other city where it's total and complete shit?

Ditch the car, pay the tickets, move on with lesson learned and a future of much, much more money in your pocket.
posted by smallerdemon at 7:53 PM on June 20, 2006

No one really needs a car in San Francisco. You can get everywhere on Muni.
posted by evariste at 8:09 PM on June 20, 2006

Looks like she can do project 20 for half of the fees at $6/hour, and she can choose where she does her community service. (If I'm reading this incorrectly, let me know)

FAQ here: http://www.sfpretrial.com/project20faq.html

A: The number of hours is determined by the amount of the fine assessed and the type of fine incurred. Parking and traffic fines are assessed at different rates. For parking fines, community service is performed at the rate of $6 per hour, for example: $120 parking fines would require 20 hours of community service. For traffic fines, community service is performed at a rate of $10 per hour. Please note that Project 20 does not set these rates.

A: Yes, there is a limit of 10 citations total (or $250.00) per vehicle per calendar year, (January 1 through December 31). Beyond this, a citizen can still sign up for Project 20 but will be required to pay 50% of the contract fine amount, and the remainder can be worked off in community service hours.
posted by sdis at 8:09 PM on June 20, 2006

if she lives anywhere near the Mission, there's a lot of one week parking out there -- eg, once a week no parking for street cleaning (pretty rare!). When I lived at Sixth and Market and had a car I would park it out there and then take the BART to my car (or walk) when I needed to use it.
posted by fishfucker at 10:05 PM on June 20, 2006

I did stuff like this all the time when I was 23. The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns is a nice self-help book (despite a somewhat dorky writing style) that teaches you basic tools for how to face down stuff like this. Once she has figured out how to negotiate the horrors of the DMV, local courts, etc, this sort of thing may never be a problem for her again. When I had to learn these skills I approached it as, "I'm going to learn how to be a grown-up here." And it worked. Everybody hates dealing with stuff like this -- I agree with those who say, don't bail her out, but do support her in every way possible as she learns to bail herself out. Many people have had to do the same thing in their early 20s.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2006

Public transit isn't fantastic here, but have you ever been to ... Atlanta, GA?

for seriously!
posted by clunkyrobot at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2006

i definitely agree on not needing a car--i'm in SF and haven't had a driver's license in over ten years, which i love...

...and, yeah, people here whine a lot about MUNI, but it gets you where you need to be...you can strike a good balance between using MUNI most of the time and having some patience, and then using cabs (which aren't too expensive considering the small geographic area of SF) when time and convenience are of priority...

...and is $1900 in parking tickets a lot? (really, i wouldn't know...hehe)...if so, it would seem that this could be just the first in a long line of bail-outs, so i would think twice about giving in...in the end, poor citizenship and lack of responsibility should come at a price
posted by troybob at 10:24 AM on June 21, 2006

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