Monday, July 14, 2008


UC Berkeley’s "Alice In Wonderland" Semantics for my Parking Ticket

A while ago I wrote about my experiences with the TSA and began my post this way:

I was enduring the ritual humiliation inflicted by the Transportation Security Administration at the San Francisco airport when I fell, like Alice in Wonderland, into a semantic rabbit-hole where the TSA used words in ways that made no sense.

I just had a similar encounter with the UC Berkeley Parking & Transportation "Service.". On June 23 I received a parking citation for "No Permit for Area" when I parked my car in one of the campus parking lots. But in fact I had left my car with a one-day permit that was appropriate for that particular lot, as you can see in the attached photo here.

So when I returned to my car, you can imagine my reaction – there's just no way I should have a parking ticket, and the citation category "No Permit for Area" just makes no sense.

Then I read a clarification on the citation that said "scratcher not marked" and again, it didn't make sense to me. As you can see, I have certainly "marked" the month, day, and year on the parking pass. I have X'ed the month, day, and year on parking passes like these dozens of times in the 7 years that I have worked at the university, and have never been cited. I have always assumed that the point of crossing or scratching the pass was to prevent the pass from being used more than once, and I certainly have done that. There is no way this pass could be marked again to indicate another day. So it is simply not true that "scratcher not marked" is an accurate description of my parking pass.

But I thought about it some more, and realized that the parking people had apparently chosen to interpret a much narrower and literal view of "scratching" of the parking pass. Maybe the parking enforcement person was having a bad day, or hadn't met his quota, or whatever – but in any case I could now understand that there was an interpretation of "scratching" under which I had not complied with the notice on the pass it is "Only valid on day, month, and year scratched off."

Nevertheless, because I didn't like the idea that my car was being ticketed somewhat arbitrarily, I appealed the citation on the grounds that I'd been "marking but not scratching" for years. So even though I might not have literally complied with the requirement, my marking surely limited my pass to a single use, which was the intent of the scratching rule.

Of course, my appeal was denied, but as a "courtesy" I was given an offer that if I paid an $18 visitor parking fee my "No Permit for Area" citation would be dismissed. I went to the parking office to pay the fee. When I got there I showed the offer letter to the parking clerk, and tried to explain why I thought they should give me a replacement one-day parking pass for the one that I'd marked on June 23. After all, if my pass had been used, I wouldn't have gotten a citation.

Now here's the real Alice in Wonderland part of the story.

Parking clerk: Giving you a replacement pass would be letting you park for free on June 23.

Me: No, I just paid $18 for a visitor parking fee for that day.

Parking clerk: That was a reduced fine. A "No Permit for Area" citation costs $40.

Me: So you're really charging me $30, because I had paid $12 for my one-day pass that you didn't honor.

Parking clerk: No, you've been charged $18.

Me: Well, If my original pass hasn't been used, then can I use it again sometime? This time I will make sure to scratch rather than mark it.

Parking clerk: No, you can't use it because it has been marked already.

At this point it was clear that I was once again in Wonderland talking to Alice, so I gave up.

- Bob Glushko

i would definitely park again with that ticket. now you have the official statement that the ticket has not been properly marked, and the only logical conclusion is that you can still use it in the properly marked way. wouldn't it be nice to triumph over the wonderland bureaucrats using their own weapons? well, it'll cost you a lot of time and effort, but it definitely would be fun to write these letters logically arguing why *they told you* that you can use that pass again...
I am tempted to use it (again), but I think it would make sense to attach to my windshield at the same time (a) my original citation (b) my appeal (c) the appeal denial telling me that I had to pay for a parking pass and (d) my blog post showing the dialog that we both agree means I should be able to use the pass.

Of course, this assumes that the people who drive around campus all day providing "parking service" to us can read and reason, and we've already concluded that they can't.
Bob, the opportunity cost for fighting these things isn't worth the outrage. How many hours did you spend?

I say this having been in the same position. I would have been better off paying the ticket.

With very little business on campus these days, I have taken it as a hint, and pretty much stay away.
Dear DMD...
yes, of course it would be rational NOT to fight things like this because it takes more time than it was worth. But this time I was SURE that I was right, so i wasted the couple of hours anyway. :-)

At least I took two walks through the campus between South Hall and Oxford Street, where the parking office is banished.

Don't park again with the ticket- you'll most certainly get ticketed again. I went through my own insanity with Cal's parking and they are on my 'list' of people whose pizza I'd like to spike with anchovies, should I ever get the opportunity. I empathize, they are utterly and entirely insane, and the management is even worse!
next time, make sure you get the name and title of each person, and post them in your comments and complaints.
These clowns are either stupid or dishonest, and in either case deserve the publicity.
That's an even more stupid and ridiculous example of backwards thinking than I had! I thought people from UCB were supposed to be smart...guess maybe that only applies to the students and faculty, not the administrators. I grew up in Berkeley and find it to be the most bass-ackwards place. For such a so-called liberal place, I've never been somewhere with more traffic and parking regulations than Berkeley. Fact is, the people who used to protest "the man" now are him.

I parked at the campus recruiting center to interview and hire UCB grads for my company. I parked in the lot below the building. I purchased a permit at the vending machine at the lot and displayed it on my dash. I got a ticket for not having a permit. I contested the ticket and was told that parking there required a different kind of permit than the one sold at the lot, even though the permit clearly showed it was valid for the time I was there.

Ok, so maybe I didn't understand the secret handshake. But come on... you want companies to come and recruit and give jobs to UCB graduates, but you don't offer up any flexibility when that's pointed out and there's a reasonable plea for some rational thinking? The lot was close to empty all day, so clearly I wasn't taking a space from someone else who had this super-special-secret permit. And HELLO... I was invited to be there to provide JOBS to your students! That same day I heard a report on the radio from UCB touting its support for creating job opportunities for its students; what a load.

The unfortunate fact is that abuse of power is rampant in Berkeley. It’s a culture in Berkeley, shared by the city government and UCB. Both have designed complex and abusive parking and traffic policies for one purpose – revenue extraction. It’s such a sad state, but this kind of thing deters me from coming to Berkeley for anything, which unfortunately hurts good people who own and work for businesses in the city…and (attention city officials) limits tax revenue for the city. Cranial-rectal inversion at its finest!
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