St. Paul parking enforcement officer Joe Hakeem pulled up alongside a row of cars on Marshall Avenue near St. Paul College and went to work, ticket machine in hand. Eight cars without permits in a permit-parking-only zone. And it was just the start of his day.
“I like staying busy,” said Hakeem, who has worked in parking enforcement for two years and said he can easily write 40 to 50 tickets a day. “People want their parking, and they want it enforced.”
Hakeem is a welcome sight in many St. Paul neighborhoods, even if he’s ruining many motorists’ days. As the St. Paul City Council moves forward with overhauling the rules on street parking permits, residents seem to agree on one thing: They want even more enforcement.
“With college students, we need to enforce it consistently. We need to enforce it continuously,” said Ryne Nelson, who bought a house across the street from the University of St. Thomas baseball field five years ago and has been flustered by illegal student parking ever since.
On Wednesday, the City Council will resume a hearing on a plan meant to address what public works staff learned from a 2017 study — mainly that people are confused by myriad parking signs in permitted parking areas and that they want permit rules enforced.
Under the proposed changes, some areas will continue prohibiting parking by anyone who does not have a permit or visitor tag. Some areas will restrict parking for cars without permits to an hour or two to allow visitors to schools or businesses to find a spot. Some areas could be merged.
One change would standardize the number of permits available to households — up to three for residents and two visitor permits. Nonresident owners would be allowed two visitor permits. Churches and nonprofits would be able to buy visitor placards for $1 each. In addition, 20 hang tags to be used for special events would be made available for each household per month. Other changes would make parking hours more consistent across the city.
Vehicle and visitor permits would cost $15, although City Council Member Samantha Henningson is proposing to increase those fees to $25 in 2019.
“What really precipitated this was feedback from neighborhoods,” said Ellen Biales, an administrative programs manager for the St. Paul Department of Public Works. “There are lots of rules for lots of different places, making it complicated for residents, but also for police to do enforcement.”
But perhaps nothing proposed to improve parking achieves anything close to consensus like a desire to see more parking scofflaws hit with tickets.
Henningson, whose Fourth Ward includes the area around the University of St. Thomas, said she hopes that increasing fees translates into further improvements, such as launching an online permit renewal system next year as well as finding ways, through technology or staffing, to beef up enforcement. Henningson wants to see a working group formed to plan for permit parking enforcement using license plate reader technology.
“The staffing and capacity and deployment piece really needs to be figured out,” she said.
St. Paul currently has 13 parking enforcement officers with only four covering the entire city on some shifts.
“It’s not a sexy issue to be talking about,” she said. “But, unlike others, this one has a solution. We just need to take the time to figure it out.”
Joe Reid, who has lived just to the east of St. Thomas for 44 years, said there are parts of the plan he likes, such as the number of permits homeowners and others can buy each year. And he thinks new technology and additional enforcement “could help.” But after 40 years of dealing with students illegally parking up and down his street and squeezing homeowners out of spots in front of their own homes, he said he’ll believe it when he sees it.
“They haven’t been very consistent,” he said. “And when they’ve been consistent, they tend to be too consistent and the students figure out when they check and when to take a chance.”
Consistency is not Hakeem’s problem. Neither is energy.
“I like to go, go, go,” said the former college football player with hopes of becoming a St. Paul police officer.
Hakeem said he keeps a spreadsheet to track cars parked in different zones and regularly checks to make sure they’ve moved. He also keeps an eye out for stolen cars, for abandoned cars, for cars parked too close to crosswalks and fire hydrants.
Driving around the city on a recent weekday morning, from Regions Hospital to the East Side, from St. Paul College to Macalester College, he checked for everything from cars parked too long in one spot to, yep, cars parked in residential permit areas that didn’t have permits.
“The college students?” he said. “They’re the biggest problem.”