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SSQQ PARKING PROBLEMS ON FIRST STREET
Written by Rick Archer
February 2007

NOTE: As of May 2007, there are two stories from women who were ticketed and towed!  Click Here

This is the way it used to be This is the way it is as of February 2007


On Wednesday night, January 31, 2007, the car of an SSQQ student named Maggi Dodds was towed from First Street by order of the Bellaire Police.

Adding insult to injury, Ms. Dodds was also ticketed for parking in a NO PARKING ANYTIME  zone. 

I did not witness Ms. Dodd's car being towed. Nor did I find out about this event until the next day.  I believe Ms. Dodds car was gone before we even knew what was going on.

However at 9:15 that evening I did intervene in the towing of a second vehicle.  In addition I engaged a Bellaire policeman in a lengthy conversation.

We saved the second vehicle from being towed, but the incident shook up everyone who witnessed the event.  When the other people heard about it from me or the other witnesses, they too were shaken up.

Naturally this incident provoked a great deal of anger.  The towing incident seemed so unnecessary that people questioned the judgment of the Bellaire Police Department and the City Government. 

Before I tell my side, let's read this article.

New "No Parking" Signs on First Street Cause Woe for Customers of Local Business

This article is reprinted from Southwest News, the local Bellaire Newspaper
Story written by Natalie Torentino
February 6, 2007

Patrons of a local business believe they were wrongly ticketed and towed after additional "No Parking Anytime" sings were posed two weeks ago along First Street between Bissonnet and Bellaire.

Rick Archer, owner of SSQQ Dance Studio at 4803 Bissonnet, said one student's car was towed and another car was nearly towed around 9:15 pm Wednesday, January 31, from the west side of First Street.

Police said they arrived when a private homeowner whose driveway empties onto First Street called to complain.

"They changed the signs but didn't alert anybody," Archer said. "My students didn't know the signs had changed."

Assistant Police Chief Byron Holloway said the City suspended enforcement of the parking signs because he could not find a city ordinance or written report of these changes with the municipal clerk.

Holloway said owners of any towed cars have a right to a towing hearing.

City Manager Bernie Satterwhite said the signs' legitimacy was derived through a traffic study conducted month's ago, determining "safe sight" distances on either side of First Street Surgical Center's driveways.

The Public Works director has the authority to erect them, then he submits a report to the clerk and city police," Satterwhite said. "We will do the paperwork today (Feb. 2). But we try to give leeway when the signs are first erected."

Public Works Director Joe Keene said the signs were changed due to "safety and visibility factors" including prohibiting parking in front of dumpsters, fire hydrants, driveways, or close to an intersection.

Satterwhite said the City considered multiple factors in erecting the signs: AT&T, located on the east side of First Street, prefers that employees park in their garage; SSQQ wants more street parking for their customers; and local residents do not want cars parked near their homes.

"We took an objective approach," Satterwhite explained, "creating spaces but still maintaining safety."

While Satterwhite said he believes the City created more spaces by posting the signs, Archer said valuable spaces needed for his studio were taken away.

"We have lost 14 parking spots on the west side of First Street," Archer says, "and gained seven on the east side. We have also scared the wits out of my students.

"My business averages 1,300 people a week," Archer said. "On some nights we have 200 people looking for parking."

"What sense is there in having 'No Parking' signs on a 40-foot-wide four lane street abandoned at night?"

Mayor Cindy Siegel said the City will "balance the concerns of the residents with the commercial area."
 

 

One Woman’s Story

This article is reprinted from Southwest News, the local Bellaire Newspaper
Story written by Natalie Torentino
February 6, 2007

Margaret Dodds, a Maplewood resident who has taken dance lessons at SSQQ Dance Studio for seven months, was shocked to leave class Wednesday night and find her Honda CRV gone. 

The car was towed due to "No Parking Anytime" signs recently posted on First Street.  Dodds said she will go to court and fight the ticket and towing charges totaling $247.39.

"It's ridiculous the way you get ripped off like that," Dodds said. "I didn't realize I had parked illegally, and they didn't give me a warning ticket or anything.

"This is money that luckily I could pull out of savings but it is a large amount with my limited financial resources as a single woman. I work very hard for what I have and I would never have parked there if I had known the signs had been changed."

Dodds said she had been parking in the same space on First Street for weeks.

"I parked on the west side by the new medical building, and made sure it was the proper distance from the curb," Dodds said. "It was the exact same place I parked Sunday night 3 days earlier. It was dark and I couldn't see the sign had changed."

 

MY SIDE OF THE STORY - RICK ARCHER

PART ONE

I am going to start my story with an email I sent to a friend the night of the towing.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 10:14 PM
To:
Subject: towing incident at studio Wednesday night


I am shaking with anger as I write.

About half an hour ago, someone ran into the studio and hollered the police were towing cars.

I walked out to the First Street area and was stunned to see a car already in harness ready to be towed. There was a police car nearby. I explained to the officer that these people did not know they were breaking the law and asked him for leniency.

The policeman looked at the tow truck and said it was out his hands. Then he got out of his car and asked the man (Roger Garrison) for his drivers license so he could write him ticket!

I implored the officer to show leniency. I explained to him the signs had just been changed and in the dark no one would ever notice. The officer shrugged and said that was too bad, it was his job to enforce the law.  Seeing that line of reasoning didn't work, I questioned the officer why he was writing a ticket when the man was already being towed?  I mean, one or the other, but don't punish the man twice.

The officer shrugged and would not answer.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Garrison and several other people from the studio stood there in the rain begging the tow truck driver to put the car down. Why I didn't take a picture is beyond me, but I was so rattled my brain stopped working.  I needed to get that car down pronto and I wasn't any help from the cop.  The tow truck driver told Mr. Garrison to hand him $135. Mr. Garrison did not have that kind of cash.

So between the bunch of us we each chipped in and came up with $70.  Surrounded by ten people who didn't look very happy, the tow truck driver finally relented and set the car down.

Meanwhile I asked the policeman again why he could not let Mr. Garrison off with a warning. I pointed out that there were a dozen cars parked illegally… couldn't he see these people were parking there out of ignorance, not to defy the law?

I said these signs had just been changed. My Hall Monitor had put a warning sign on the door, but obviously that hadn't been sufficient.  It was dark out when they parked.  They couldn't see the writing on the signs in the dark.  They were literally 'in the dark' about these changes.  Surely Bellaire did not need to be so aggressive.

The policeman replied he wished he didn't even have to be there, that he had much better uses for his time. He said he wouldn't even be here if the department didn't keep getting one complaint after another.

That is when I did a double-take.  Complaints?   From whom?

The officer replied the Police Department had gotten several complaints about illegally parked vehicles each day for the past three days. If they hadn't gotten a report tonight, he wouldn't give this problem a second glance. 

Now I hesitated to think over what he had just said. I did not realize someone was complaining. That was new information. All this time I had assumed some patrol car was passing by and decided to do something. But that was not the case… someone was actively complaining!

I looked around. I was standing just a few yards from the corner of First Street and Bissonnet. There was not one house within 400 yards. Who on earth would care enough to complain?

Then I looked over at the new hospital. The security guard was standing in the doorway watching everything that was going on.

Of course. That's when I figured it out.

I replied, "You know what? I bet the hospital got the signs changed in the first place. And I bet someone at the hospital has been calling the police to make a report."

And the policeman replied, "And I bet you would be correct."

I have two witnesses to corroborate that is exactly what the policeman said.

That is when the hospital and my landlord became the prime suspects.

Recently my landlord has been repaving the parking lot.  First they tear up half the parking lot, my students have nowhere to park, then the security guard gets orders to call the police when our students have nowhere else to park and don't even know they are falling into a trap.

Sounds cold-blooded, doesn't it?

And you know what else?  Someone has the influence to make the city vaporize parking on a street that should be open to parking in two directions.

Recently Jack Benard who is my assistant asked the Public Works Department to help alleviate the parking crunch on First Street.  This is the reply he got:

-----Original Message-----
From: Jack Benard
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 9:28 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: No Parking along First Street

Hi Rick,

As per our conversation last night here is the information about First Street.

Before I went to visit DR at Public Works I called JK, the head honcho over all of Public Works.

He was not there so I left a message asking what the procedure is to get the 'No Parking' signs removed from First Street between Bissonnet and Bellaire. JK called back but I was not there to answer the phone so he left a message on my voicemail. I transcribed the message, it is:

"Hi Jack, this is JK with the City of Bellaire. I am not interested in the removement of the No Parking Signs on First Street. The residents that backs up to that street wants no parking all the time. I'm sorry your client has trouble with parking, but I'm really not interested in removing the No Parking Signs."

As a matter of fact I look for more residents to ask for more No Parking Signs to be installed."

After what happened tonight, you don't suppose someone is trying to run me off?  That's how I feel.


By coincidence, that very day of the towing, I had already written a letter to Ms. Cindy Siegel, the Mayor of Bellaire.  I had just learned that on Tuesday Night - Salsa Night - 20 SSQQ students had received tickets for parking in the "NO PARKING ANYTIME" Zone.  In other words, even before Ms. Dodds' car was towed, I was already deeply worried about the situation.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cindy Siegel
Mayor, City of Bellaire
7008 S. Rice Ave
Bellaire, TX, 77401

Ms. Siegel,

My name is Rick Archer. I operate SSQQ Dance Studio located at 4803 Bissonnet. I have been at this location since 1980.

I am writing for several reasons.

Last night, about 20 of my students received a parking ticket for parking in a "NO Tow Zone" on First Street next to the new hospital.

As you may or may not know, last week these signs were changed. Previously the signs read "No Parking, 8 am - 4 pm." Now they simply say "No Parking."

 

These people were completely blind-sided. How would they know the signs had been changed?

They parked there in the dark and could only see the sign had changed if they had a reason to walk up close to the sign and look.

The only lettering visible at night is "NO PARKING".  Those are the same words of the signs that used to be in the same spot.   My students had no chance. 

I have different students every night. If my business had been extended the simple courtesy of a week to warn people, the violations would have largely eliminated.  What sense of fairness dictates people involved in a victimless situation like this be penalized so severely.

There was a Bellaire Policewoman on Monday who had the courtesy to warn our business. We removed the offending cars immediately. But apparently Tuesday night's officer was not in the mood to extend a similar courtesy.

No one had a clue - including my Staff - until they found out the hard way.  I would have warned them myself, but it was my day off and my assistant did not get the phone message till it was too late.

So the first reason I am writing is to ask if you would consider extending leniency to the people ticketed last night.
 

The second reason I am writing is to ask you to help me. That's right, I am asking for your help to alleviate the "No Parking situation" on First Street.

The current 'No Parking' situation makes absolutely no sense. After 5 pm, First Street between Bellaire and Bissonnet is the most deserted street in your city except for my dance students parking on it. There is no traffic to speak of.

First Street is an extremely wide street that does not have even one private house facing it.

Yes, there are several residential garages on the west Side that use First Street, but the actual entrances to these homes face Locust, Spruce, and Cedar. On the east Side of First Street are businesses that close after 5 pm.

Unfortunately my dance studio business depends a great deal on First Street for overflow parking

Both sides of First Street were available to my customers from 1980 to around 1997. Then one day in 1997 (give or take a year) the East Side of First Street became a No Parking area. No one would explain the reason at the time although recently we understand this side was blocked off as a courtesy to AT&T.

It was an huge inconvenience to my customers to lose this parking area, but they adapted by parking further down on the west Side of First Street.  For several years,  was sufficient.

When Lenox Hill Holdings acquired my lease in 2004, 33% of my parking spaces were removed during the construction of the new hospital. Now parking on First Street became vital.

Once the hospital was completed in October 2006, the parking situation improved for a few months.

However this week 14 valuable First Street parking spaces along the hospital and the adjacent First Street Surgical Center have been removed.

I have heard a rumor these parking spots were removed due to construction of the new hospital, but quite frankly I have been at this location for 27 years and I have never seen an accident in this entire time that would serve as a justification to remove these 14 valuable spots.

Consequently my students are now parking further away than they ever have before!

I am receiving constant complaints from people who are forced to walk over half a mile to my studio when there 14 perfectly good parking spots going to waste just 200 feet from my studio! 

These people include single women and senior citizens.

Every one of these people stares at the "No Parking" signs as they pass by in confusion.

They ask me who on earth benefits by these signs.

Many of these people are unescorted women forced to walk a deserted street late at night at 10 pm.  What sense does this make when there are 14 perfectly good WELL-LIT parking spots just 200 feet from the studio?

Ms. Siegel, these people must park somewhere.  If nothing is done to improve the situation, eventually the only logical overflow places left are in front of homes on Locust, Spruce, and Cedar. Surely these homeowners will protest people parking in front of their homes.

Wouldn't it make more sense to allow parking at night on both sides of First Street where not one business is open and not one home owner would be affected?

 

DANGER TO WOMEN ON FIRST STREET

Before you misunderstand, the picture where a woman is walking alone was deliberately staged by me to help illustrate the danger of First Street late at night. 

I promise you I was not stalking the woman you will see shortly.

On Wednesday, February 7, I left the studio at 10 pm.  I was parked way down on First Street.  As I turned the corner in the picture at right, I noticed there was a single woman walking 100 feet ahead of me. 

She was completely alone on a totally black street.  There was not one light within 50 yards of this woman.

It was so dark I could barely see her.

As I watched the woman head to her car, I realized that if I took a picture of this situation, people would see what I meant when I told the Mayor how dangerous this street is.

So on the spur of the moment, I called out to the woman.  I said in a fairly loud voice, "Miss, excuse me, could I ask a favor?"

The woman gave no sign that she heard me. But I noticed she started to walk faster.  I did not give chase; if anything I felt a little ashamed of myself for possibly scaring her.

To my surprise, after the woman got in her car, she turned around and drove to me.  The car stopped and the woman rolled down her window to speak to me.  The woman said, "What do you need, Rick?"

As I had guessed, it was my Wednesday night dance assistant Sheryl Marques.  

Sheryl smiled and said that she thought that was my voice, but it was too dark to take any chances.  She decided to get in her car first, then go check it out. 

Now it was my turn to smile. I told her I didn't think she had heard me, but I was also worried that I had scared her. 

Sheryl smiled back.  She said, "Actually, you did scare me.  I was walking alongside some bushes and a fence and was watching carefully to make sure no one was hiding there waiting for me. When you called, I nearly jumped out of my socks because I was already a little frightened."

I replied, "Considering how dark it is out here, I can certainly see your point.  Sheryl, the reason I called to you was to ask if I could take your picture to illustrate how dark and how scary this street is late at night."

Sheryl nodded her consent and got out of her car.  That's when I took the picture on the right.

From seven pm to ten o'clock pm, there is not one car in sight on this road other than SSQQ students coming and going from the studio.

First Street has little natural traffic at night.  All businesses are closed. It is true there are about six residential driveways, but these six homes don't generate much traffic, believe me.   

In addition, First Street has been walled off from Locust, Cedar, and Spruce, so there is no access to any residential side streets.

In other words, at night this street has no purpose.

Nevertheless while women like Sheryl walk half a mile down a deserted street, 14 excellent parking spots go to complete waste for no obvious reason. 

You have to wonder what the Public Works Department is thinking.  They talk about safe sight lines... okay, maybe during the day safety is a concern.

But at night you have no traffic and therefore no need for these 50 foot "safe sight lines".

If there actually is a car light, it can be seen a mile away.

On Thursday, February 8, I had a meeting with Mr. Satterwhite, the City Manager.  He mentioned that he might relax the parking restrictions somewhat to help us out. 

We will see.

 

MY GREAT WESTERN NOVEL

You know, ever since John Wayne passed away, we don't get many Western movies any more.  Kevin Costner had "Open Range" a couple years ago and before that came "Unforgiven" and "Silverado", but that's all I can remember. 

Occasionally TNT lets Tom Selleck do a made-for-TV movie like "Monte Walsh", but for the most part the Western genre is quiet.

What I liked about Westerns wasn't necessarily the gunfights, but the stories.  The good Westerns told a story about what people do under pressure.  For example, in "High Noon" how does a sheriff find the guts to stand up to the bad guys against overwhelming odds?

Here is a story that sticks in my mind.  Cattle Baron I and Cattle Baron II fight for control of a stream that separates their properties.  The winner of this struggle will control the valley. 

After several skirmishes, there are deep, bitter feelings.  One day the son of Cattle Baron I is found murdered.  By coincidence a gunslinger in the employ of Cattle Baron II had been seen riding through Cattle Baron I's property in the distance without permission.

Feelings run high. The desire for revenge is strong.  A range war is about to break out.  Except for one thing - the gunslinger didn't do it.


MY SIDE OF THE STORY - RICK ARCHER

PART TWO

-----Original Message-----
From: Dodds, Margaret
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 8:08 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Wednesday Night Towing
Importance: High

Rick, this is Maggi Dodds, I have been taking classes at your studio since June, 2006, at least 1 or 2 every month.

Wednesday night my car was towed from 1st Street where I thought it was parked legally. I did not know the signs had been changed, I had just parked there on Sunday evening with no problem. There was a small sign on the door, but with all the other signs on the door, I did not notice it.

When a change like that occurs, would you consider having the instructors announce in class about the change so we could move our cars. Last night cost me $65.00 for the parking ticket and $182.39 for the tow and impound fee.

This is money that luckily I could pull out of savings but it is a large amount with my limited financial resources as a single woman. I work very hard for what I have and would never have parked there if I had known the signs had been changed.

Rick, is there anything you can do about this situation? I would appreciate any help that you can give.
Thanks, Maggi Dodds


 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 8:59 AM
To: Dodds, Margaret R
Subject: RE: Wednesday Night Towing

I heard about your incident via email at 11 pm last night and it made me sick in my stomach with anger and disgust.

I completely believe you when you say you had no idea you were parked illegally, Maggi. What is even worse, my guess is that someone at the hospital is deliberately targeting our business. What you may not know is the hospital is owned by my landlord, the hospital probably got the signs changed, and the hospital likely called the police about your car.

Obviously the landlord wants to get rid of me and is willing to attack customers like you. Who else could have phoned in that complaint?

I made an announcement via the loudspeaker at 9:15 last night right before I went out to do battle with the Bellaire Police... whose performance incidentally was less than stellar. After I got the tow truck driver to put the car down, I assumed that was the last battle of the night.

Where exactly was your car parked by the way? I didn't see any more cars at risk.

On Wednesday afternoon I wrote a letter of protest to the Mayor of Bellaire. Then Last night after I heard about your car being towed, I wrote a letter to the Assistant Bellaire Police Chief and the owner of the Bellaire Newspaper. In addition I sent out a memo to all my staff.

The only reason I didn't tell you PERSONALLY is because I thought the threat was contained last night. After all, thirty people ran out of the studio to inspect the situation. I myself spend fifteen talking the tow truck driver into putting down the car while the cop just sat in his car writing tickets.

Nor did I know the depths of the evil I was dealing with until last night.

Whoever made that call, what they did was horrible.  We are dealing with some truly mean-spirited people.

We have to fight back, Margaret.

I realize it is a small gesture compared to what you went through last night, but I would like for you to take a dance class on the house next month if you don't hate us completely now. When you come to register, just tell Marla, my wife, who you are and she will take care of it.
I would also like you to help me fight these monsters. For starters, If you would, write a story about how you were treated. I will forward that letter to every person I can think of with influence. Second, look at the ticket and give me the name of the officer. I bet it is the same guy who I wrestled with before your problem.

I will now forward you the letter I wrote last night so you know I am doing the best I can to.

-----Original Message-----
From: AM
Sent: Thursday, February 01, 2007 9:23 AM
To: 'Rick Archer
Subject: Commentary on towing and parking

Hi Rick,

I was just as disgusted to hear about all the trouble people have experienced with the Bellaire police and the tow trucks. 

I knew it had to be something with the landlord.  We should have realized it was a set-up. 

It makes no sense.  First they tear up the parking lot, with half of it roped off.  Where did they expect people to park?  And then they conveniently change the signs to trap people. 

I realize that SSQQ customers take up a lot of the parking lot, but I'm sure the BBQ place and other businesses aren't complaining about the business that the studio brings in. 

Besides most of the businesses are closed by the time classes start. Why should they care?

I don't really have a suggestion to offer, but sometimes the "squeaky wheel gets the grease", right?  Would it help if we wrote letters to the mayor of Bellaire or the police chief or the newspaper?  SSQQ brings in a lot of business to the Bellaire area, besides just the ones located on the same strip. 

Is that something that they want to see disappear?  Anyway, that's my two cents worth.  Thanks for listening.


There were plenty of emails that came in after people heard about the towing.  I have listed the tip of the iceberg.

One very interesting email came from an engineer who offered this opinion: 

  1. Bissonnet is a 4-lane road designed for heavy traffic.  Bissonnet has a width of 44 feet (not including the center median).
     
  2. South Rice is a 4-lane road large enough to permit a Metro bus to travel on it.  South Rice has a width of 36 feet (measured at Fournace).
     
  3. First Street has a width of 40 feet.  When compared to these two other Bellaire streets, First Street should be considered a 4-lane road as well.
     
  4. Most cities, including Bellaire, do not even bother putting any sort of parking signs on lightly traveled side streets like the First Street.
     
  5. It seems like the City of Bellaire has spent way too much time and money in this study and installing new signs on First Street.  What was the reason for the study?  If the City has not done this the same way all over the city, then this indicates there is some sort of personal interest.
     
  6. In my professional opinion, the portion of First Street between Bissonnet and Bellaire is designed for parking on both sides.
     
  7. First Street has miniscule amount of traffic especially in the evenings. The signage that is currently applied is based on the assumption of a very heavily trafficked street. The traffic study cited and the implementation is a definite overreach.
     
  8. The City is too generous on these safe sight distances from driveways and intersections compared to other areas in different locations and cities.
     
  9. It seems like someone has already rationalized their decision, so it is going to be difficult to get cooperation out of them. It is easy to cite “Safety Concerns” as a reason to forbid anything.
     
  10. If the purpose was to create more parking, then the remaining east side of the street that has no parking signs should have been turned into after-hours “parking permitted”. This way the City could still satisfy AT&T and still provide maximum parking in the evenings.

Conclusion:  If people have nowhere to park legally, then residential side streets like Cedar and Locust become the outlet.  That said, there is ample room to allow parking on both sides of First Street and still have it function as a two-lane road.

This makes further sense considering how little traffic there is on this road at night when the dance studio is in operation.


Based on the letter from the engineer, I was about to ask my students to begin a writing campaign when I received two important pieces of information.

First Mr. Satterwhite, the City Manager, invited me to meet with him personally to take a closer look at First Street. He said he would like to give me an insight into the decision making.  It seemed to make more sense to work through channels than to begin a Shock and Awe letter campaign.  So I held off on turning loose the email barrage.

Second, I got an email from a source familiar with the Bellaire government. 

I just drove by the entire length of First St. again. Since I don't know exactly where the signs were before, I can't make any educated guess about parking spaces, but it seems very, very restrictive for no real reason.

I would like to see that traffic study, and I would like to know who wrote it.

I am told by another source, who is in a position to know, that the night the towing took place it was not the hospital who made the complaint. I am told it was a Bellaire citizen who lives on one of the side streets that used to connect to First Street. The source tells me his driveway opens onto First Street.

I think he has been one of the chief complainers about your studio over a period of years. In particular he doesn't want anyone parking near his driveway.
 

I LEARN A LESSON

Words cannot begin to describe how shocked I was to learned my landlord had nothing to do with my parking problems.  I felt very foolish, by the way.

The circumstantial evidence pointed right to the hospital and the landlord. 

  1. The hospital was ten feet from the scene of the crime. It was the only business open.

  2. The hospital security guard knew about the cars getting towed but did nothing to warn us.

  3. The Bellaire policeman seemed to acknowledge that the hospital was responsible for the complaint.

  4. My contentious relations with the landlord indicated there was no love lost.

  5. There were no other suspects.

Who would have guessed the sniper was some homeowner down First Street?

In the meantime, I could not believe I was prepared to accuse the wrong person. Shame on me.


Thank goodness I was able to learn the true identity of my nemesis.  In fact, I now know his name, who he works for, and where he lives. Nevertheless I don't see what good it would do to publish his name at this time.  Maybe later.

Why this man has a grudge against my business is something I do not know.  But the man deliberately called the Bellaire Police three nights in a row to complain about cars parked illegally 200 yards away from his house.  Why he would do something so cold-blooded is beyond my understanding. 

I have been told he resents cars parking close to his driveway.  In fact, Mr. Satterwhite made a point to ask me to inform our students to give all driveways six feet of space.  I suggest we respect his wishes.

In the meantime, there is an old saying - don't let the tail wag the dog.  If  his garage backs up to First Street, unless someone blocks his garage, what’s his problem?  This guy is making so much fuss that the legitimate rights of many other people are being ignored.  Women walk alone at night because legitimate SAFE parking spots have been eliminated.

This guy does not see the big picture.  If our cars have nowhere to park... and the Bellaire administration sticks to their guns on closing the parking spaces close to the hospital and the Doctor's office, then someday our complainant may have  even worse things to complain about - cars legally parked in front of his house.

 

CONCLUSION (FOR THE TIME BEING)

This story is probably far from over.

As for now, once people become educated that the common sense parking spots are off-limits, they will discover there are actually a few more parking spots that have opened up on First Street south near the intersection of First and Cedar.  However these new spots fail to compensate us for the loss of the parking on First Street north of Bissonnet.

The City of Bellaire actually thinks it has done us a favor, but the truth is things are no better than they were before.

I hope they will try to open up more spots on First Street.  

to be continued....

 

TWO MORE STORIES - May 2007

Two women who were victimized by the Bellaire Police decided to fight back.  Here are the stories.

Parking Remorse
by Peggy Solovyov
March 21, 2007

It was a typical cold, damp, windy winter night in Houston. I arrived at SSQQ for dance class at 6:45 p.m. and thought I would get a choice parking spot in front of the dance studio.  However, since the parking lot was under repair, there was no parking available.  So, I drove under the hospital overpass to go to First Street, where I have parked legally since 1993. People were parking their cars on both sides of the street, and I thought how strange that was since I knew parking was not allowed on the east side of First Street. But for years, parking was allowed after 4 p.m. on the west side of First Street. So, I thought I was in a good, legal spot where there was no sign at all.

I attended dance class and stayed for practice, when after about 2 songs, Rick announced to us dancers that all the cars were being towed on First Street and if we’re parked there, we should go rescue our cars! I wasn’t worried or in a hurry because I had though I was parked legally--BIG MISTAKE. After dancing a couple more time, I decided to go home. Dread filled me as I approached my Xterra.  The police were hovering near my truck and just getting ready to have it towed away. The police greeted me with, “Here’s another one,” in an almost laughing voice. Then the officer started writing me a ticket. I couldn’t figure out why, but was afraid to ask questions. Finally I said, “Why are you writing me a ticket?” and he said, “You’re parked in a No Parking Anytime/Tow Away zone. But you’re very lucky that you didn’t have your car towed.”  Feelings of shock, fright, and anger all flooded over me in waves, but I remained silent at first. When I regained my composure, in the most “innocent” voice I could manage, I asked the officer, “You mean you would leave a woman alone, on a dark cold night, in a deserted place, without a ride?” He just repeated that I was really lucky as he continued writing the ticket.

My Xterra was not towed from First Street on January 31, but I wanted to have the parking ticket dismissed, so I asked Rick for some evidence of the parking lot situation and a few other things. In his reply, Rick sent me some useful legal information. But I began to realize maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for me to go to court over a parking ticket. I had discussed the matter with a lawyer through Prepaid Legal. She said there usually is no defense for illegal parking: 'Ignorance is no defense for a parking ticket, ' I thought. However, I was pretty miffed for getting the ticket and thought it was not right and that somehow this was a mistake. I explained to the lawyer that the first No Parking sign I could have possibly seen was obscured by an SUV parked in front of it and tree branches. And, I had parked my Xterra way past the first sign, but not quite near the next new No Parking sign. The signs were very spaced out on the West side of the Road.

The lawyer said I could give court a try, and it would not be necessary to hire a lawyer. When I pleaded “not guilty” at the arraignment, the judge at my arraignment had cautioned the group of “criminals” that we should hire a lawyer to defend ourselves in court. If we didn’t hire a lawyer, we must at least act like lawyers. He had me pretty scared. And I thought, ‘was he getting a kick-back from local lawyers?’

The lawyer told me that small towns often put up No Parking signs temporarily then take them down later. “It's a ploy to make some money for the city,” she said. Also I thought, 'the police probably need some practice harassing people who are just out having good, safe fun dancing...not committing any real crimes.' It was a policeman's holiday: “like shooting fish in a barrel.” They never had it so easy. I think they were actually having fun. The Latin-American officer writing my ticket asked  me if I was Hispanic. I should have told him about the fantastic Latin dance classes taught at SSQQ. You know, just as a return favor for him being so neighborly and all. 

As my court date approached, I had second thoughts about going to court: Would it be worth the trouble to fight a $65 parking ticket? Could I win an indefensible offense like illegal parking? I could just pay the fine and make a "donation" to the City of Bellaire. After all, they DIDN’T tow my car and the policeman told me I WAS very LUCKY...as he was writing out the parking ticket. 

Yep, looking back on the ordeal, I believe Bellaire's finest were pretty darn nice to me! Even when I asked the officer if he would have left a woman alone without a ride, late at night, on a cold, damp, dark January night, He gingerly reminded me of how lucky I was that my car was not towed. He didn't even threaten to arrest me for questioning him.

With encouragement from reading Rick’s SSQQ newsletter article about the parking incidents and support from my husband, I decided to fight the parking ticket in court on March 21, 2007. However, feelings of dread, fear, and anxiety engulfed me while I waited for my day in court. With the warnings of the arraignment judge ringing in my ear, I gathered evidence, took photos of the parking area of First Street and compiled them into a 7-page PowerPoint side presentation. I printed out the slides and even made an extra copy for the Judge to follow my defense statements. My thinking was, ‘what kind of judge would NOT be impressed enough to dismiss the parking ticket?’

Today in court, the public prosecutor called my name in role call, then seemed to be comparing my ticket to someone else’s ticket and smiled to himself. Ahah! At last, I felt a glimmer of hope. In time, the prosecutor called another woman and me to the bench and smiled to the judge as he explained: “These women were ticketed on First Street, when the parking signs had been installed incorrectly.” The judge (a kind-looking woman this time) looked at us and said, “Ladies, your tickets are dismissed, you’re free to go.” As I thanked the judge, a feeling of relief replaced the feeling of dread I had experienced for weeks. That’s when I realized that perhaps I have a tendency to become overly anxious about everyday occurrences. So, I got my ticket dismissed, and learned a good lesson about myself today.

The ticket ordeal is finally over, but I’m not completely “over” the situation yet. Because someone made a “mistake” when installing parking signs, I had an agonizing time over almost being stranded, going to arraignment court, receiving advice not to fight the ticket, and then going to court. I’m wondering, 'Is it was real or a nightmare?' Then in my minds eye I imagine the young police officer avoiding my gaze as he tells me, “You’re very lucky.” 

Peggy Solovyov
 

Car Towing Story
Maggi Dodds

Thursday, May 10, 2007

On Wednesday, January 31st, I drove to the SSQQ studio. The parking lot was totally torn up, so I parked on First Street where I had been parking for several weeks.  In fact, I had parked there on the previous Sunday.  When I first started parking there, I carefully read the signs which said “No Parking between 8AM and 4 PM.  Since it was almost 7 PM, cold, rainy and dark, I did not stop to read the sign again. In fact, the sign was tilted over.  I had made sure that I was parked the appropriate distance from the curb and that I was not blocking the driveway at all.  I then went to my Advanced Western Swing class and to practice afterwards. 

About 9:30 PM, I went outside to drive home and my car was gone.  My first thought was that it had been stolen, but when I saw all the tow trucks around, I realized it had been towed. I went back into the Dance Studio which had just become aware that they were towing cars.  I called the Bellaire Police Department to report that my car had been towed and to ask where it was.  The officer on duty said he didn’t know where my car was and wouldn’t for an additional 30 minutes.  I figured I was going to need some cash to get my car so one of the men in my class was kind enough to drive me to the ATM and then to the Bellaire Police Department.  The officer on duty wanted my driver’s license which I provided.  It seems they had already pulled up my license plates and knew about the car’s insurance, owner, etc. 

The officer then said I had to pay $65, I asked what for, he said because I was illegally parked.  He insisted that they would only take cash, so I gave him the $65.  I told him that I had been parking in that same location for several weeks in fact just as recently as the previous Sunday.  He didn’t really care what I said. He eventually gave me a form which said where my car was.  The form indicated that it had scratches and dents on it.  I asked him what this meant, he said the police office had filled out the form and this is what he saw on the car.  I told him that there had better not be any scratches or dents on my car, that it was in perfect condition and had in fact spent the entire day at the Honda dealership being serviced. 

I asked him what the tow charge was and he said he didn’t know.  I called the impound yard and got quite a shock when I was told the fee would be $182.39.  Well, I had to then go back to the ATM to get additional cash since the impound yard only takes cash.  Again, the gentleman from the dance class was very kind and drove me to the impound yard.  We finally found the impound yard in the dark and rain in a very bad part of Houston, near Bissonnet and 59.  You walk up to the window which is sitting many feet above the ground, shove your paperwork and driver’s license through the small slit in the window.  I then pushed the $185.00 that they were requesting. They gave me a form to sign and then told me to go find my car by myself through that gate with barbed wire rolled on top of it.  I asked them about the scratches and dents listed on the paperwork and they said the police did that all the time so if there is a problem, they are covered. They acted surprised when I asked for my change back, but eventually did give it to me.  They would not let the man escort me into the impound yard.  I asked him to wait until I was able to get out of that yard.  I finally found my car, checked it over and got out of there as quick as I could. Needless to say, I was very upset. 

The next day I received a very supportive e-mail from Rick Archer, owner of the Dance Studio who was very upset about what had happened.  He had contacted the Assistant Police Chief of the Bellaire PD who was not aware of what had happened.  He looked in to the matter and found out that the signs had been changed but technically were not in effect at the time of my towing.  He was kind enough to write a letter to that effect. 

I then investigated the process for filing for a tow hearing.  It is quite a lengthy process, lots of paperwork, filing fee of $20 and a trip to the Courthouse downtown to file for the hearing.  When I showed my paperwork to the man at the Courthouse, he was surprised that I had not been given my money back when he looked over the paperwork.  He didn’t think I would have a problem recovering that money.  About 6 weeks later, I finally had a tow hearing, it was at 1 PM on a Wednesday afternoon.  I had to leave work, ride the Metro train downtown and wait in the courtroom.  There were about 20 people there fighting tow charges.  I was practically the last one, the Bellaire policeman that had ticketed my car was there.  When I went up to the judge, I showed him the letter, he had a copy of it already, but I had the original with me, he asked the officer if he had seen the letter and all he said was “I’m aware of it” The judge did grant in favor of me for the tow hearing charges but told me it was only because of a technicality.  He also said that he had taken classes at the dance studio previously and asked what I was taking.  He wanted me to show him so I invited him to come down and dance with me.  He didn’t but it did lighten up the mood a little bit. At that point I really didn’t care how I got the charges reversed, I just was glad that they were.  Bellaire had 10 days to file an appeal and then an additional 30 days before they had to refund my tow charges plus the $20.00 court cost.  I didn’t expect to ever see my money but in about 2 weeks, I received a check from Bellaire for the entire amount of the tow charge and the court cost.  So, that was the first hurdle cleared.

During this time, I had been to court twice, the first one just to say, yes, I had been given a ticket and was assigned a time to return for a hearing.  At the hearing, I was allowed to plead guilty, non guilty or nolo contendreI of course chose to plead not guilty.  I was then assigned a date for a trial by the judge.  Originally it was on the 1st Wednesday in April, but then it was changed to the first Wednesday in May, by the Bellaire Court System.  So, last Wednesday, May 2nd, I went to court finally.  I had my paperwork together and was ready to plead my case.  After about 20 minute, it was finally my turn, I gathered up my folder and walked up to the table in front of the judge.  The District Attorney handed the judge my paperwork, the judge looked at it and made a comment such as “Oh, another one of those”.  He signed the form, passed it to the city clerk and I was done.  I never had to open my mouth.  The clerk verified my home address and I should receive my $65 check in a few weeks. 

This was a very frustrating experience.  It should never have happened.  There was a sign on the door to SSQQ but I did not see it.  I didn’t hear the announcement when they said they were towing cars.  I had really enjoyed class that night and was having fun at the practice.  I have since learned to get to class early to have a space on the now completed parking lot. 

Rick Archer was very supportive throughout this whole ordeal and I really appreciate his help.  I appreciate that the Assistant Police Chief of Bellaire did what was right even though it was not very popular among the administration of the City.  I wrote the Mayor, Cindy Siegel and the City Manger to let them know what happened.  I never heard a word from them.  It was a very frightening experience being there in the dark in the impound yard. 

There was an article in the Southwest News regarding the incident and the parking problems faced by the studio there.  I appreciated their publicity and will be sending them a follow-up also.  I was impressed that the City of Bellaire and the Bellaire Police Department did follow through with the reimbursements. 

I would really like to thank Derek, the gentleman in my class who was kind enough to help me that evening.  

Maggi Dodds

 

(Rick Archer's Note - I want to make something clear.  These two women were not the only SSQQ students who were ticketed that week.  The Bellaire Police ticketed many SSQQ students... illegally as it turned out!  

These two women went through an ORDEAL to get justice.  Look at all the hours they spent!   They did nothing to deserve having their time wasted like this.

There is a right way to handle things and a wrong way.  The City of Bellaire handled things very poorly.  With the exception of the Assistant Police Chief, Peggy and Maggi and all the other people who were ticketed were treated terribly.

   
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