By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
“Laws are to govern all alike – those opposed as well as those who favor them. I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.”
–President Ulysses S. Grant, 1868
Somers Point has a delightful Bayfest street fair on the last Saturday of April each year. City Council makes special laws to close Bay Avenue to vehicle traffic, and to allow amusements, and the sale of all sorts of crafts and food in the street. The noise ordinance is ignored so the best local bands can do loud, open-air concerts all along the street. This year the weather was perfect, and thousands of out-of-town visitors thoroughly enjoyed the day.
But a few dozen of them got an unpleasant surprise this year when they got back to their cars. They found tickets for violating the new Somers Point permit parking ordinance. Since June of last year, only local residents can park on four streets close to Shore Medical Center and various doctors’ offices.
First offenders are fined $25 to $50, and a court appearance or formal plea by mail is needed. That adds another $27 bringing the minimum penalty to $52.
I doubt that any of these people thought they were breaking the law. All of the side streets had barriers manned by volunteers who waved traffic in and out. Every parking space was filled, yet nobody was warned of the parking restrictions. The new law was not there the year before. It was very easy to miss the signs – or assume that they did not apply to the Saturday of Bayfest.
One of the volunteers on the Bayfest Committee told me they did not ask to waive parking permits because nobody thought about it – that law was not there the previous year.
The police originally decided not to issue tickets that day unless someone complained. But a resident on Higbee Avenue did complain. He said if he had to buy a $5 permit to park in the street in front of his own house, nobody else should park for free. And so the police ticketed the car of every Bayfest visitor in the area.
This “stringent execution” of the law is exactly what Republican President Ulysses S. Grant said should be done with all laws.
It is now up to the legislators – the mayor and council members of Somers Point – to re-think whether or not these parking restrictions are “bad or obnoxious” and should be repealed.
If you believe in liberty, you want any proposed new law that gives special privileges to a few selected people to be very closely examined, and adopted only when absolutely necessary.
When laws are simple and treat everyone equally, government is more honest, fair, and less expensive. As the Roman statesman Tacitus observed 2,000 years ago, “The more numerous laws, the more corrupt the state.”
Somers Point adopted these parking regulations 10 months ago when some residents complained that employees, patients, and visitors of the nearby hospital and doctors’ offices were taking up too many parking spaces during the day.
The tax-exempt hospital now has its own garage for its employees, patients, and visitors. Is the parking restriction still needed to keep them off the nearby streets?
As for the doctors’ offices, don’t they pay the same taxes as residential homes? And since most of the residents have private driveways, isn’t it more of a hardship for sick, disabled, and elderly patients to park far from their doctors’ offices, especially in cold and rainy weather?
In a bad economy with lots of empty office buildings, should Somers Point encourage doctors to move their offices to other towns where parking is less of a hassle?
If Somers Point council members now find this new parking law has turned out to be “bad” or “obnoxious”, they should repeal it. At the very least, they should minimize its impact by allowing visitor parking for one or two hours (Atlantic City permits three hours) and on weekends, like Bayfest weekend, when most doctors’ offices are closed.
What about the folks who got tickets at Bayfest this year? If the municipal prosecutor and the police agree that these out-of-town visitors were not given fair and reasonable notice that these restrictions were in effect during Bayfest, they should dismiss the tickets. If these laws must be “stringently executed,” maybe the Bayfest Committee should pay all or part of the fines. But no matter what, everyone should be treated equally.
(Reprinted from May 16, 2012 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, http://www.shorenewstoday.com/snt/news/index.php/politics/24793-parking-permit-law-has-unintended-consequences.html)
Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturday. For information see www.libertyandprosperity.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.
(Image sources – http://cuppacafe.com/images/blogimages/image5/unintended1-293×300.jpg & http://www.insidesocal.com/sgvgov/parking-ticket.jpg)