CONCORD -- A month after raising several local parking fines to match the highest in the Contra Costa County, city leaders reversed their decision and instead have now endorsed only modest increases.
The unanimous vote Tuesday ended an odd episode that began near the end of the budget process when Councilman Edi Birsan unexpectedly suggested raising parking fines.
Concord already had the highest fine amount for two of the seven major parking violations -- $65 for expired registration tags (matching Walnut Creek) and $325 for blocking wheelchair access.
On June 24, when Concord approved its fiscal year 2014 budget, Birsan made his case for increasing the fines for the other five major offenses to match the highest in the area.
"We should not be the weakest. We should not be the softest," he said. "Fines are there to encourage people to behave and, therefore, I feel that if in Richmond they can do a $100 fine for parking in the red zone, so can we."
With little discussion, the council agreed to the hike.
"I'm going to support Councilman Birsan on this," Councilman Dan Helix said.
The fine for parking in a handicapped space increased from $325 to $350; a time zone or meter violation jumped from $40 to $59; leaving a vehicle for more than 72 hours on a street or in an alley went up from $40 to $64; parking in a red zone or posted no parking area ballooned to $100 from $40; and violations of marked curb zones climbed from $40 to $59.
But Helix quickly had a change of heart. At the July 8 council meeting, he read a lengthy statement -- drafted by the city attorney -- explaining why he sought reconsideration of the increases.
"I do not believe our parking fees/fines have to be higher than any other city in the county. Our parking fees/fines are already at or near the top of the scale and that should be sufficient," Helix said.
As an example, he described the $60 hike for a red zone parking ticket as "excessive and unwarranted."
On Tuesday, the council agreed to across-the-board increases pegged to the 2.8 percent inflation rate, adding between $1 and $9 to each fine.
"Just because we don't have the highest (fine) rates in the county doesn't mean we're a weak city," Mayor Tim Grayson said. "What makes us strong is the consistency and the enforcement of the ordinances and laws we have within our community."
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.