Resident's' $370 parking tickets prompt county to evaluate fines at parks

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People should not park their car on the grass at an Allegheny County park, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Friday. But if they do, they shouldn't be fined hundreds of dollars.

Now, members of Allegheny County Council plan to find some middle ground.

An ordinance on the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting proposes lowering the fine for parking or driving on the grass -- currently $100 to $300, depending on the police officer's discretion, according to a fee schedule set by council in 2006 -- to $50.

Councilman Nicholas Futules, an Oakmont Democrat who is the parks committee chairman and the bill's chief sponsor, said the amount of the fine would be open for discussion among council.

The preoccupation over grass parking began a few weeks ago.

The warm weather, along with new addition of the Go Ape Zip Line and the OTB Bicycle Cafe at the North Park Boathouse, have made North Park a popular destination.

"It's really drawn a lot of people into the park," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "The problem sometimes, in dealing with success, and dealing with growth of that, is where is everybody going to go?"

To the grass, apparently.

Over Mother's Day weekend, a busy time for the park, there were drivers parking on the park's grass, rather than in satellite parking lots.

"We don't want people parking on the grass," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "It can cause damage, particularly if it's rainy."

Those who did park on the grass got an unwelcome Mother's Day gift: a $370 ticket from the county police, with court fees tacked on.

That's too much, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

"The punishment is over and above what I think it should be ... for parking in the grass," he said.

After hearing complaints from people about the tickets, Mr. Fitzgerald said the county asked police Superintendent Charles Moffatt to direct his officers to issue warnings, rather than tickets, to people parking on the grass.

But the next big weekend for the park, Memorial Day weekend, there was an event for wounded veterans, and more parking on the grass.

Mr. Fitzgerald said some officers did not follow the directive and issued the same large parking tickets.

Asked whether there would be any discipline against any county police officials or officers, Mr. Fitzgerald said he does not like to talk about personnel issues in public, but said the county is looking into what happened and that "there may be some discipline."

"We're looking at the whole structure," he said. Superintendent Moffatt could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Futules said he discussed the issue Thursday with Mr. Fitzgerald, Superintendent Moffatt and Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville.

Mr. Futules, Mr. Ellenbogen, and fellow Democrats John Palmiere of Baldwin and Charles Martoni of Swissvale are co-sponsors for the proposed legislation that will be introduced Tuesday, when county council holds its regular meeting at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Mr. Futules said the county does not want to discourage people from visiting parks. Extending parking areas could go a long way to helping the situation, he said. So could additional signage.

"We need to be specific. 'Parking on grass: $100 fine.' Then we'll see how many people want to park there."

As for those who received parking tickets, Mr. Futules' recommendation was to visit a magistrate and ask to have the ticket amount reduced.

Kaitlynn or 412-263-1707. First Published May 30, 2014 11:17 AM

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