San Jose gets stricter with parking enforcement
Time-restricted parking on South 23rd Street in San Jose. Photo courtesy of San Jose Department of Transportation.

    If you thought you could get away with parking over the time limit on San Jose streets, think again.

    The city is ramping up enforcement of time-restricted street parking with automated license plate readers this month. The controversial technology is a high-speed, computer-controlled camera system that automatically captures all license plate numbers that come into view, along with the location, date and time.

    San Jose has used this technology for 13 years in the airport and more recently in public garages and on police cars. The system is also used to enforce residential permit parking zones and assist with stolen vehicle recovery. There was a push by officials last year to increase use of automated license plate readers following a series of retail robberies. Now the cameras will be mounted on parking and traffic control patrol cars to ensure people are not parking past the time limits on time-restricted parking.

    Colin Heyne, spokesperson for the city transportation department, said the technology will make the job more efficient, noting manual monitoring and enforcement is time consuming.

    “Residents rely on parking officers to investigate abandoned vehicles, keep vehicles from parking in the bike lane, monitor residential permit parking areas, enforce safety-related parking violations and more,” Heyne told San Josè Spotlight.

    The cameras scan parked vehicles as parking patrol cars drive through time-limited zones, noting the license plate, location and time. This allows parking patrol officers to keep better track of posted time restrictions. Once the time restriction has expired, the officer returns and cites vehicles in violation with a $40 ticket.

    “The technology does not replace parking and traffic control officers,” Heather Hoshii, division manager of parking and downtown operations, told San José Spotlight. “It is simply a new tool that will allow them to be more efficient. Pivoting from a slow, manual process to a much more automated process will allow officers to patrol larger areas more quickly.”

    For the first few weeks, the technology will be used to enforce time restrictions on spots that have a limit of less than two hours. Later this summer, the second and final phase will include enforcement of parking spaces with a limit of two hours or more.

    A problem with surveillance tech

    On its website, the city says it uses automated license plate readers to make parking enforcement more efficient, improve customer service and reduce fraud.

    However, Bob Nuñez, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, said the implications of the data collection and increased surveillance trump any potential benefits.

    “They’re coming by, taking a picture of my car and my license plate and I haven’t done anything,” Nuñez told San José Spotlight. “They’re retaining that information on someone that they have no reason or cause to take information from. So why are they doing it? How long are they keeping that information?”

    He said this type of data collection can wrongfully implicate residents in crimes simply because they parked nearby—and that will likely disproportionately affect Brown and Black residents.

    In April 2021, the city approved a contract with Turbo Data Solutions and subcontracts with Vigilant Solutions to mount the cameras on five patrol cars, costing $140,000. Vigilant Solutions has been highly criticized by the NAACP and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy advocacy group, for privacy and surveillance concerns. A major concern is the company has allowed other law enforcement agencies across the country to access its databases with billions of license plates images that are time-and-location stamped.

    “It’s not just that people are parking on the curb and should pay for it. It’s also that they might be parking near a clinic that provides abortions or a clinic that provides gender affirming health care to adolescents, or a criminal defense lawyer or an agency that serves undocumented immigrants,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz told San José Spotlight.

    Hoshii said the system for parking enforcement does not identify any individual or access their personal information during the license plate review process. Photos captured that aren’t associated with a ticket are deleted within 36 hours, according to city documents. However, if a vehicle is cited, images will remain in a database for five years.

    Schwartz said while that is a decent policy, rules can change and be ignored, which is why there needs to be oversight of such technology—something San Jose does not have.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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