December 6-13, 2006

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Drunk parking pass program proposal

Dangerous mix: Is a plan to cut down on drinking and driving worth a cut in parking ticket revenue?

Dude, Where's My Car?

Tony Madrigal's proposal for drunk parking pass program stirs council debate

By Steve Hahn

We've all been there. It's 2am and the bartender, ignoring your pleas of "one for the road," kindly tells you to get the hell out. You wait outside among the cigarettes and vomit for a cab, but before one arrives you think of your car parked next to the meter. Unwilling to wait for the cab and pay a parking fine in the morning, you get in the car and take off. Luck usually dictates whether you end up safely at home or in the drunk tank with your car impounded (or worse).

This sticky situation got Santa Cruz City Councilmember Tony Madrigal to thinking: Can we create an incentive that would entice people to wait for the cab instead of hopping in their car while drunk? He decided the best solution would be to create a permit system allowing drunk cab riders a grace period between when they get in the cab and 2pm the next day.

When this proposal was submitted to the council on Nov. 28 for a vote, however, Madrigal was quickly put on the defensive by a barrage of skepticism. Madrigal himself seemed unsure of his proposal, avoiding eye contact with other councilmembers and frequently pausing between thoughts, even as he lauded community support for the idea.

"In this city we depend on tourist dollars," he said. "[We need] folks coming in from outside our community to spend money downtown, and that includes frequenting our local pubs and restaurants."

Emily Reilly, who would be sworn into the mayor's seat later that night, was the first and harshest critic of the plan.

"We're taking money away from the income of our city," she complained. "If there's already a car parked there, then someone going to breakfast at Cloud's, let's say, can't put money into that meter."

Reilly, who also owns Emily's Bakery on Mission, put the responsibility on the shoulders of the individual. She suggested preventive actions like walking, taking a bus or selecting a designated driver as ways to avoid a parking ticket.

Other councilmembers, although skeptical, continued to toy with a variety of ideas.

Ryan Coonerty suggested partnering with businesses for an education campaign that would inform drinkers of the free parking opportunities, valid in some garages and surface lots until 11am the next day, and the low, $5 per day fee for parking in the paid garage downtown. This would prevent people from leaving their cars by the more expensive meters.

Jim Burr, transportation manager for the Public Works Department, suggested dismissing parking tickets with a cab receipt and an explanation attached, which would seem to resolve the frequent worries councilmembers expressed regarding oversight of the permits.

Ed Porter suggested reviewing enforcement of laws prohibiting bartenders from serving intoxicated patrons.

Coonerty raised the idea of resolving the city's cab shortage, which he believes creates the real incentive to drive drunk.

For now, the Public Works Depart-ment, which was also encouraged to offer more alternatives, is analyzing the feasibility of implementing the program. If the council approves the plan it will have to go through the transportation committee.

It's unclear whether the measure will be implemented or get caught in a bundle of red tape. But the plan's proponent deserves credit for sparking debate on an issue that is too often hidden from the public agenda. So, the next time you're sitting in a bar, raise a toast to a Tony Madrigal, the City Council member brave enough to speak up for the drunks.

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