A KING 5 Investigation finds the City of Seattle is falling short on its pledge to crack down on chronic parking violators on downtown area streets.
The city launched programs in the summer of 2011 to get tough on the worst offenders, when it raised street parking rates to among the highest in the nation.
But KING 5’s review of Seattle Municipal Court records shows hundreds of car owners continue to rack up dozens of unpaid parking tickets with few consequences.
Some of the drivers have hundreds of unpaid tickets to their name.
In response to a public records request, the municipal court provided KING 5 with parking citation records since August of 2011 showing:
- More than 10,000 people or businesses have three or more unpaid parking tickets;
- 502 car owners have ten or more unpaid tickets;
- The 502 top offenders have a combined total of 9,077 unpaid parking tickets;
Seattle’s “queen” of unpaid parking tickets is a former Capitol Hill business owner cited 146 times since August 2011 for parking illegally. To date, none of those tickets have been paid, according to one Seattle parking official.
“She would park in front of the building whenever she wanted,” said Capitol Hill web designer Scott Howe.
He watched the top violator repeatedly park in a load zone right out his office window on 10th Ave.
“She’d stay there all day long, come and go actually, and leave the ticket on the windscreen and park back where she was,” said Howe. “Kinda pisses you off sometimes, to be frank.”
The woman he’s talking about is Sophia Phillips, whose parking habits attracted a lot of attention in the neighborhood around her vintage clothing store called “Kaleidoscope Vision.” One man said he watched her crumple up tickets on her windshield.
“It’s weird and embarrassing,” Phillips told KING 5 by phone of the nearly 150 unpaid tickets on file. She says her store didn’t have any parking so she was forced to find spots on the street.
“I sold my car so I wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore,” said Phillips. She also said she’s been working with the Municipal Court to try to get the tickets paid off.
Kaleidoscope Vision shut down its Capitol Hill store this summer, and Phillips' businesses partners have moved the operation to Los Angeles.
“I thought she thought it was a joke,” said Howe of his former neighbor. “(After that many) tickets you would imagine the city would take care of that in some way, shape or form.”
However, the court records reveal that city policies are failing to stop some of the worst violators.
A program launched in July 2011 was supposed to halt chronic parking violators dead in their tracks. The Seattle Police Department initiated a “boot” program in which SPD was to place a wheel clamp on the vehicles of automobile owners with four or more unpaid tickets. The clamp doesn’t come off, and the vehicle can’t move, until the owner makes arrangements to pay off the tickets.
Police say 8,121 vehicles have been booted under that program. But SPD agrees that the records obtained by KING 5 reveal that some of the worst offenders are getting away with it.
“I think there are still some loopholes we’re working on trying to close because it’s obvious we’re not getting some of the biggest violators out there today,” said SPD Parking Director William E. Edwards.
He said the department has lobbied, unsuccessfully, to close the holes in city and state law.
For instance, the department can't boot vehicles with out-of-state license plates, regardless of how many tickets the driver has received. Edwards said many of the vehicles on the top offenders list have plates from California and Oregon.
Also, he said crafty violators have learned they can re-register their cars in a different name. A car owner could show up at a licensing office with a friend and register that car in the friend’s name. Even though the license plate stays the same, the new registration wipes the slate clean for the new “owner” and the car is no longer on the “boot” list.
When the car owner racks up more tickets, they simply re-register again.
“We believe there are some people who have been very good at maneuvering through the system and adept at playing the game,” said Edwards. “Now they’ve racked up hundreds of tickets and are still able to drive and park on city streets without any real consequences.”