At odds over handicapped parking

Posted Sept. 04, 2009, at 8:26 p.m.

This is a story about parking. Not that kind of parking. So stop reading now if that is where your mind is at.

But here’s what makes this sort of parking story interesting. Somewhere out there is a picture taken on Thursday by a Bangor parking ticket attendant of Bangor’s most colorful attorney wagging his finger while stubbornly erasing the dreaded white parking chalk mark from his tire that the attendant had just made. It was Julio DeSanctis’ second parking ticket of the week.

“When he brought out the camera I posed,” Julio told me this week. “I wagged my finger at him.”

I think I might just pay for a copy of that photo.

I’ve had a few people approach me since Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia announced a few weeks ago his decision to crack down hard on violators of Bangor’s parking ordinance.

Today’s Poll

Do you think time limits should apply to handicapped parking spaces?

Yes

No

There is a perfectly good multilevel parking garage, after all, within reasonable walking distance to most downtown businesses. It is important to keep cars moving to encourage people to shop and do business downtown.

I’ve listened to the multitude of groans and complaints, waiting for the one that would really catch my ear and be worthy of discussion in this space.

Enter Julio.

Julio is one of the most frustrating, loud, sometimes obnoxious, always controversial, interesting and quietly generous men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

I’ve written about him, good and bad, many times.

For the past several years Julio has been battling cancer. He has been as stubborn in this fight as he has been in every aspect of his life, but the fact remains that he has an inoperable tumor on his spinal cord.

Most of the time he needs a cane to get around, but he continues to practice law, at least on a part-time basis.

He rightfully qualifies for a handicapped parking placard.

On Monday he parked in a handicapped parking spot near the Penobscot County Courthouse and spent the day in a trial in front of a judge.

When he finally came out, he found he had an overtime parking ticket on his car.

“So I’m thinking,” he said this week, “not just for me but for anyone handicapped with lengthy business to do downtown, where are we supposed to park? For me to walk from the parking garage to the courthouse with my briefcase would be quite a struggle. For other handicapped folks it would be impossible.”

There also is no indication on the handicapped parking sign that the spot is subject to a time limit.

While other parking signs indicate whether the area is subject to a one- or two-hour limit, no such warning is posted on the handicapped parking sign.

Bangor City Attorney Norman Heitmann said Friday he believed that the time limit for handicapped parking spaces was double the amount of time on other nearby spaces.

Julio, being Julio, fired off a letter to Heitmann and Gastia suggesting they may want to review and alter the city ordinance regarding handicapped parking while not so subtly suggesting that it could possibly be a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

On Thursday, as Julio got out of his truck after parking in a handicapped spot on State Street, a city parking attendant immediately appeared and chalked his tire — a visual marker that parking enforcers use to note how long a car has been in one spot.

“What are you doing?” Julio asked.

The attendant informed him that he was marking his tire because he was allowed to park in the space for only two hours. Julio informed him that he didn’t think that was right, and in true Julio fashion pressed his foot to the tire and rubbed the mark away.

“He hauled out a camera and started taking pictures of me. So I posed and wagged my finger at him. Then he started writing me a ticket. I said, ‘Why are you writing me a ticket? I just parked here,’” Julio recalled.

The parking attendant handed him a ticket for erasing the chalk line.

“I’ve looked and I don’t see that in the ordinance,” Julio said. “They may have the right to put the mark on my car, but it’s my car and I think I have the right to take it off.”

Now here, I thought, is a parking story.

Gastia was not available on Friday. Heitmann said he had not yet received Julio’s letter, but noted that there were a number of handicapped motorists who also needed to have access to the limited number of handicapped spaces downtown.

“If the person who happens to get there first stays parked there all day, then is that really fair to others who need that spot?” he questioned.

Perhaps not. But, certainly, in this zealous effort to curb wayward parking bandits, is it really the handicapped that we want police officers and parking attendants focusing on?

If there are official time limits on the handicapped parking spots, should they perhaps be noted on the sign?

Should limits be there at all?

The city, most importantly Gastia, who has been the public face of this campaign, should address the issue reasonably and logically and with input from those who truly need those spots.

It’s not a matter of whether it is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It’s a matter of the city being open and aware of the needs of all of its residents.

I think Heitmann sees it that way, and I think Julio does as well.

I’d like to think in the end that level heads will prevail, but the voyeur in me must admit that I would have paid good money to have watched that standoff Thursday between Julio and that unsuspecting parking attendant.

As a middle-aged, long-married mom, it certainly is the best parking story I’ve heard in a while.

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