OAKLAND -- About a week ago, Oakland reversed a long-standing parking enforcement practice and began ticketing cars with handicapped stickers if the drivers had not paid the meters in off-street city lots.

Parking Director Noel Pinto made the change without informing Mayor Jean Quan or the City Council, according to Quan, Councilmember Pat Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown), and several furious Grand Avenue shop owners, who said they were outraged and their businesses were harmed by the surprise turnaround.

The practice came to Quan's attention Thursday afternoon as she was promoting Small Business Month outside a Grand Avenue furniture store. Her tour of the neighborhood was disrupted by the angry shouts of local shop owners who said that their customers were being driven away by aggressive parking enforcement.

Among the angry store owners was Marshall Curatolo, 83, who owns Walden Pond Books at 3316 Grand Ave. A registered handicapped driver for three years, he said he's parked in the city-owned lot next to his store without a problem until last Friday, when he found himself with a $54 ticket because he hadn't paid the meter.

"It's outrageous, and it's cruel," Curatolo said.

Confronted with so much anger over the issue, Quan said she hadn't been aware that this was happening. The decision apparently came from Pinto, who told council members just two days ago that "he thought he was making an administrative decision rather than a policy change," Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said.

The law already allows for cities to ticket handicapped parkers who do not pay to park in pay lots, and it's not unusual for handicapped drivers to pay for parking when they pull in to most paid parking lots, Kernighan said. The problem, she said, is that law was not always enforced and that nobody was warned that it would be.

Pinto did not return a phone call or answer an email Thursday. It's unclear how many tickets have been issued under the new enforcement.

Quan said she will offer amnesty to anyone who has gotten such a parking ticket and will order Pinto to properly notify the public if he plans to continue the new enforcement.

This isn't the first time store owners on Grand have been outraged by parking policies. Many owners protested a short-lived effort by the City Council in 2009 to extend paid parking hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. In 2010, many residents were outraged when they discovered that parking violations were enforced more strictly in poorer neighborhoods than in Montclair and North Oakland.

In her most recent revenue report to the City Council, Budget Director Sabrina Landreth said in July the city was then looking at a $7 million revenue shortfall, caused mostly by a lower-than-expected number of parking tickets being issued.

Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.