Magazine

Point of View

Taxes, Rock, and a Russian Doctor

By John Van Horn

I noticed something strange in my Yahoo list of parking articles. The majority of them talk about parking fees, fines, on-street charges – all being raised in cities across the country.
All the articles have the same theme. Councils are trying to balance their budgets on the backs of the parking public. Once again, parking has moved from being a “fee” to being a “tax.”
When you park on-street in Miami Beach, you will be paying an additional buck an hour because the local city dads are looking for ways to balance the budget. That extra buck isn’t a charge because it suddenly became more expensive to service and maintain the parking in MB, or because the free market says that people will pay more; it’s because they need the money.
What about Burlington, VT? Here’s the entire story in the Boston Globe online:
“The city of Burlington is hoping to raise an extra $500,000 through an increase in parking fees. Parking rates at city parking garages will increase to a maximum of $8 from the current $5.50. Long-term lease rates will increase as will parking meters. But city officials decided to keep the two-hour free parking policy for shoppers at downtown garages. Officials say it’s the first increase in parking rates in a decade.”
The first line tells you where the money is going; the last line is the justification.
Here’s one more, from the News-Republican in Boone, IA:
“The City Council enacted an ordinance that raised the fines for overtime parking from $5 to $10. The fine increase was enacted for a few reasons. One was to help equalize a service the city provides with the cost in providing it. “It’s due to general expenses,” said city administrator Luke Nelson. “The fines hadn’t gone up for a long period, and the city has to make sure that they stay consistent with providing a service, such as parking enforcement. ... Funds collected from parking fines go into the general fund of the city, which helps pay for many different services, including law enforcement.”
Did you catch it? Funds collected from parking fines go into the city’s general fund. That says it all; the rest is window dressing.
These increases, and hundreds like them across the country, are simply ways for cities to collect money. They bear no relationship to the market price for parking, the need to clear parking or “churn” for businesses; nor do they bear any resemblance to the need for opening up parking to cut down on congestion.
They simply are set higher to increase revenue, and put it into the general fund.
This is a horror. It skews parking requirements, makes no difference in the on-street/off-street value of parking, doesn’t entice folks into off-street, and certainly none of the money will ever see its way back into the neighborhoods whence it came. It’ll just go to fund the latest boondoggle the folks in city hall have up their sleeve.
***
I spent the last few days on a road trip. Drove from LA to the SF Bay Area. I’ll tell you, based on the traffic on Interstate 5, there is no gas crunch. It was loaded with cars and trucks – but that’s for another time. We started the trip in the traditional manner, with ZZ Top’s “Smart Dressed Man” turned up on the stereo.
Why ZZ Top? It all goes back to a John Sandford novel “Broken Prey.” The protagonist, Lucas Davenport, solves murders mostly in the Twin Cities area, and throughout this novel, there was a subplot in which he and his friends were selecting the top 100 Rock Songs (no Beatles or Elvis) to put on his new iPod. Somewhere in there, he took a road trip and fired up ZZ Top because “any decent road trip will start with ZZ Top.” He’s right – try it.
You can get Sandford’s opinion of the top 100 – Google his website. I have found 95. If you want to know how Dimitri Shostakovich got on the list, you have to read the book.
***
Actor Omar Sharif of “Dr. Zhivago” fame slugged a valet parking attendant outside a Beverly Hills steakhouse in 2005. The attendant sued the actor. What you may not know is that this thing has been winding its way through the courts for the two years. It came to a head just before the trial started when Sharif decided to fire his attorneys and handle the case himself.
He told the court to send all communications to him care of a country club in Cairo and washed his hands of the proceedings. He didn’t appear when the trial started, and the judge found for the plaintiff and awarded an amount, including attorney’s fees, in excess of half a mil.
Sharif may be a bad drunk, but he is no fool. His position is that this is all ridiculous. He was happy to pay the attendant something for his pain and suffering, plus his costs, and apologize. However, he didn’t feel that a quarter of a million in attorney’s fees plus $350,000 to the valet was appropriate, so he just opted out.
Since all his assets are in Egypt, his native country, the only way anyone can get to them is to retry the case in Cairo, and no one is up for that since the valet’s attorneys haven’t been paid a cent. It all seems to be moot.
Here’s what I think. Sharif is right. OK, he’s an oaf and a bad drunk (this has happened before), but if he had been JVH, he would probably have spent a day in the slammer, made to pay restitution, and that would have been that. However, since he’s a rich actor, they went for the deep pockets. This is what’s wrong with our justice system.
That blindfolded woman with the scales is actually peeking out from under the handkerchief that is covering her eyes. If the person has some big bucks and a good attorney, they can get by with anything (can anyone say OJ?), but if they are an average stiff who does the same stupid thing, they get nailed.
In this case, the reverse happened. Since the “mark” was rich, he was forced to defend himself by spending more than a hundred grand – the process was strung out forever – and when it came down to it forced to pay everyone’s attorney’s fees and nearly $400K in awards to the valet.
Unfortunately. Sharif was too smart for everyone. He decided not to play. He can continue to work and travel in the States, it appears, and continue living just as he had before. Is it fair? Probably not. The poor valet gets zip. But in the end, is a huge award and beaucoup bucks for attorneys any more fair?
Just saying ...

Article Abstract from September, 2008




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