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Some Drivers Believe City Is Issuing Predatory Parking Tickets

By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) - Parking agents for the city of Denver have written out more than 300 tickets in the last two months for drivers blocking fire hydrants, but a CBS4 investigation found many of those $25 citations are being written at hydrants just a few feet away from an official city sign suggesting parking in the immediate area is legal.

Parking Ticket Investigation
(credit: CBS)

"Is it entrapment? Fundraising?" asked Denver resident Ivan Beckoff.

He parked on the 500 block of Grant Street this month at the base of a city sign which said one hour parking in the area was allowed. But just a few feet from the city sign was a fire hydrant. The curb was not painted red and there were no other signs warning drivers not to park near the hydrant.

City ordinance 54-458(4) outlaws parking within 10 feet of a fire hydrant. But following the sign directions put Beckoff within 10 feet of the hydrant and at risk of receiving a $25 citation for blocking the fire plug.

"Confusion, mixed messages," said Beckoff as he moved his car out of the area.

Parking Ticket Investigation
Ivan Beckoff is interviewed by CBS4's Brian Maass (credit: CBS)

A CBS4 review of parking citations shows that in the last two months, Denver vehicle control agents have written three citations at that specific fire hydrant to drivers who may have thought they were parking legally, when in fact they were not.

Close by, on the 1100 block of Grant Street, parking agents wrote 15 citations in two months to drivers who parked adjacent to a fire hydrant. But if the drivers pleaded confusion, it would be easy to understand.

Roughly 15 feet from the fire hydrant -- or less than one car length away -- is a city sign saying two hour parking is allowed in the area. Records show parking agents sometimes come by the same hydrant multiple times each day and are able to cite drivers for infringing on the 10 foot halo around the hydrants.

Again, the curb here is not painted any color and there is no other warning to drivers that following the signs directions will lead to a ticket.

On the 200 block of South Garfield Street, a sign tells drivers they can park on the block for two hours. But the sign is about seven feet from a hydrant. In the last two months, parking agents have twice nailed drivers who parked within 10 feet of that hydrant.

Parking Ticket Investigation
Heather Burke with Denver Public Works is interviewed by CBS4's Brian Maass (credit: CBS)

But Heather Burke, who speaks for Denver Public works and its parking enforcement division, said "We're not seeing it as a problem." She rejected any suggestion that the parking signs seem to be setting people up for tickets.

"Most people understand you can't block a fire hydrant," she said.

Asked if she believed the signs might be a bit misleading, she replied "No I don't."

CBS4 requested an explanation for why the city does not paint curbs red around hydrants or otherwise provide some warning to drivers so they can avoid parking near hydrants and receiving expensive tickets. Burke did not provide an answer. She insisted parking agents were not handing out hydrant tickets "day, after day, after day."

But the city records obtained by CBS4 showed for just the first two months of this year, an average of three hydrant citations being written every day.

In the Cherry Creek North area, CBS4 found the city ordinance prohibiting parking within 10 feet of a hydrant was at odds with reality. On block after block , CBS4 found metered city spaces placed within 10 feet of fire hydrants -- so by definition, anyone who parked in one of those spaces could conceivably receive a ticket for blocking a hydrant.

"I think the rules are flawed and they need to be looked at," said Mike Pardun. He parked his pickup truck in a metered space at 3rd and Milwaukee on Feb. 11.

Although he fed the meter, when he returned he had received a $25 citation for blocking access to a nearby fire hydrant. The space he parked in turned out to be just 17 1/2 feet long. His pickup truck is about 20 feet long. Average Denver parking spaces are 18 to 22 feet long but Burke says in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood, where parking is at a premium, some spots toward the end of blocks -- like the one Pardun parked in -- are shorter than others.

"I was just disappointed," said Pardun.

But when CBS4 measured, it turned out the end of the space he parked in was just 8 1/2 feet from the hydrant. So technically anyone parking in the legal space, and filling the meter, could be cited for parking too close to the fire hydrant.

CBS4 found the same problem in numerous spots around Cherry Creek north: legitimate metered spaces that have been placed within 10 feet of a fire hydrant.

At the corner of 2nd and St. Paul street, a space has been placed within seven feet of a hydrant. At 100 St. Paul Street, a metered city space has been placed directly in front of a fire hydrant.

"They need to amend the code or not give tickets here because it violates that technicality of that 10 foot rule," said Pardun.

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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