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Originally published September 9, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Page modified September 10, 2011 at 9:43 PM

Seattle moves to raise parking fines another $5

Seattle is proposing raising raising parking fines by $5.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Parking fines: How we compare

Seattle is considering a $5 increase in all parking fines, making the fee for overtime parking $44. By comparison:

SPOKANE: $15

BELLEVUE: $20

TACOMA: $25

PORTLAND: $34*

SAN DIEGO: $43

SAN FRANCISCO: $65**

Source: Seattle Muncipal Court, various city websites

* First infraction.

** Downtown San Francisco

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Parking rates went up in many Seattle neighborhoods earlier this year, and now the city is proposing raising parking fines by $5.

Overtime parkers, who make up about half of parking citations, would pay $44. Penalties for most other violations — such as parking in a loading zone, in front of a fire hydrant or at a bus stop — would rise to $47 from the current $42.

An estimated $2.1 million more per year would be collected for the city's general fund, which helps pay for administration, parks, public safety, social services and transportation.

Parking already is lucrative for Seattle, which issues a half-million citations a year. Fines alone reap about $21 million a year, in addition to $55 million expected this year from meter fees and parking-lot taxes.

Parking fines were last increased in January 2010, by $4.

Seattle fines are significantly higher than in other Washington cities but lower than in Chicago, San Francisco and New York, a city comparison says. Fines for overtime parking in Seattle are in the midrange among big West Coast cities, but for other kinds of violations, they're below average.

New fines must be enacted in two steps, according to Yolanda Williams, Municipal Court administrator: first by the court, which already has been granted state permission to do so; then by the City Council, by amending city codes. Higher fines would take effect 30 days after a council vote, said Williams.

The court's move to raise the fines was based on a look at comparable cities, Williams said.

"Higher penalties will hopefully deter illegal parking," she added, though the court didn't cite any specific research Friday on that angle.

The City Council's Finance and Budget Committee was briefed Friday on the new rates, and forwarded the issue to the entire council for discussion Monday, said Councilmember Jean Godden, chair of the finance committee.

Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking," recommends that instead of flat fines, cities use a graduated scale where first-time offenders receive a warning or low fine, and serial violators pay escalating amounts.

"Cities often increase their parking fines when they need more money. Los Angeles, for example, is facing a major budget crisis and increased its fines for all parking tickets by $5, regardless of the violation. This across-the-board hike suggests that the higher fines are more about raising money than about enforcing the law," he wrote last year in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece.

Godden said the idea of graduated fines hasn't come up with council members. As for a $44 rate, Godden doesn't object, and says she personally racks up a couple parking fines per year.

"It seems to me, if you park in a school zone, park illegally ... when I get a ticket I feel I owe it — I pay it," she said.

This year, Seattle added to its enforcement arsenal the so-called smart boot — a U-shaped device that is locked around a wheel of cars that have at least four unpaid parking fines. To release it, motorists must call a control center in New Jersey and arrange to pay old penalties plus a $145 handling fee, then be given a code to unlock the boot.

The city also raised parking fees in the most crowded neighborhoods, such as First Hill, downtown and Pioneer Square, and lowered them where spaces are readily available, such as between Seattle Center and Highway 99.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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