Santa Rosa is showing no mercy toward people who abuse disabled parking privileges.
The City Council on Tuesday approved a $1,000 fine for anyone who forges, fakes, or uses someone else’s disabled parking placard to get convenient or free parking they don’t deserve.
At the time, Mayor Ernesto Olivares called the offense “inexcusable” and said he wanted it set even higher, closer to cities like San Francisco and Sacramento, which have fines above $900.
City parking supervisor Toni Guanella obliged and Tuesday returned with the $1,000 fine, the maximum allowable by the 2009 law.
“This greater fine amount is intended to deter and/or penalize the individuals who have chosen to modify and use fraudulent placards to obtain preferential parking which they are not entitled to,” she told the council.
The number of people abusing disabled placards is on the rise, with parking enforcement officers confiscating at least 40 since July, Guanella said.
Some are real permits that have expired. Others are crude fakes. Others have dates painstakingly forged to appear current. Many are permits issued to people who have since died, Guanella said.
The people using them are either cheating the city out of parking revenue or taking up spaces intended only for truly disabled people, she said. Previously, only law enforcement officers could issue criminal citations for the offense, which carries criminal penalties of up to $3,500 for multiple offenses.
But parking enforcement officers are the “only effective mechanism to curtail the abuse,” Guanella said.
The skyrocketing use of disabled placards is related to lax state rules about who can get one, observers say.
Last year, there were 2.4 million disabled placards in the state, the equivalent of 11 percent of the 22 million registered vehicles, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In Sonoma County, there were nearly 32,000 placards, a number that had grown 165 percent since 1994. The county’s population rose 16 percent over the same period.
Santa Rosa’s fine is the highest of several Northern California cities investigated by the parking department. The council approved the measure 5-0 with no comment.