By Eric Klein

The Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday night to raise parking ticket fees across the board by $3.00, laying the blame for the unpopular move at the feet of the state legislature. The increase will take effect on December 7th.

Without the $3.00 increase, the city stands to lose more than $1 million in the next two years, according to a city staff report. That’s because when the state passed its budget, it included a mandate increasing its take of every parking ticket.

Mayor Tom Bates said that while Republicans in the state legislature refuse to raise taxes, they’re causing cities all over the state to pick up the burden, in part by raising fees owed to the state from each local parking violation.

“It’s a lot of baloney,” said Bates. “These right wing Republicans say they’re not going to vote for any taxes, well they just did. They just passed it on and gave it to us and now we’re the villains.”

This latest increase in the amount owed from each ticket to be paid into the state’s Trial Court Trust Fund comes on the heels of similar increases last year, which cities across California passed on to their citizens in the form of higher parking tickets. Berkeley raised its parking fees by $5 in June 2009. The state is using the money to help pay for repairs and maintenance of court facilities.

The council voted to pass through the $3.00 fee increase by raising all violations in the city by that amount. They put off an additional increase of $2.00 recommended by city staff in order to study how surrounding cities react. Mayor Bates said that if Berkeley is “competitive, but not leading” then they will consider the additional increase at a later date.

The vote was eight yeses with only Gordon Wozniak voting no. “I think it’s bad policy,” Wozniak said before the vote. He feared that the state legislature would raise the fee again next year. “This is the second year they’ve done this in a row, and how do we know they’re not going to keep doing it every year because we just keep passing this cost on to the citizens.” Wozniak urged the council to push back. “We should protest this, maybe we should look into whether we want to litigate it.”

The mayor and council agreed that it was an issue to raise with the League of California Cities.

The other council members spoke on their concerns and reluctance to raise fees prior to the vote to do just that. Council member Susan Wengraf asked for a study on how parking fines impact business before the council votes to raise fees again.

Council member Max Anderson called the fee increase a regressive tax because it often impacts the poor the hardest. Anderson said that he has worked with the City Manager to try to reduce multiple fees for some of his constituents who faced the prospect of losing their car and their means of livelihood when they were unable to pay off their multiple tickets with compounded late fees.

Berkeley issues about 247,000 parking tickets a year, according to a city report. California now takes $7.50 per parking ticket.

A ticket for an expired meter will now be $43. A ticket for parking on a street sweeping day will be $98. Parking illegally in a commercial or passenger loading zone will cost $57.

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