By: Joe Strupp
After seven months of withholding privileges from reporters
and photographers, San Francisco officials agree on
a new policy for issuing and controlling parking passes sp.
AFTER SEVEN MONTHS of withholding press parking privileges from hundreds of reporters and photographers, San Francisco officials have agreed on a new policy for issuing and controlling press parking passes.
The new guidelines for issuing press placards were approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Aug. 1 following a long-running dispute between journalists and city parking officials.
The dispute began in December 1993 when the San Francisco Police Department announced it would no longer issue press parking permits to city journalists. Police officials said the responsibility would be turned over to the parking and traffic department.
Parking and traffic director John Newlin agreed to take over control of the 1,000-plus press passes issued annually for news vehicles in the city.
But after reviewing the lists of reporters that received the press placards in early 1994, Newlin accused some news agencies of abuse and said no new permits would be issued until tighter controls were put in place.
“I had information from the police department that there were too many press passes and it was a system out of control,” said Newlin, a former police captain. “We were seeking clarification of the parameters of the law so we could set our own procedure.”
Allegations that as many as half of the parking passes were abused caused Newlin to refuse to issue new passes until further information was gathered. He also sought an opinion from the city attorney’s office about the right to issue press parking permits under state traffic codes.
Deputy city attorney Lawrence Wayte issued an opinion Jan. 11 saying the state vehicle code includes no provision directing the city to issue parking permits for reporters. He indicated concern that the city might be preempted by state law from issuing the permits.
Therefore, when the 1993 permits expired Dec. 31, 1993, city reporters were left without any parking privileges.
For months journalists and photographers racked up hundreds of dollars in fines and tickets while parking and traffic officials refused to issue new permits or set new policy.
Several news agencies took their complaints to the Board of Supervisors, which held a committee hearing April 21 to discuss the issue.
Reporters, editors and photographers testified that by refusing to issue parking passes, the parking and traffic department was impeding their ability to adequately cover news.
At the end of the hearing, held by the Housing and Land Use Committee, Newlin agreed to honor the expired passes and work with the police department for a final policy.
But in the months that followed, tickets continued to be issued to press vehicles that reporters contend were legitimately gathering news.
“We left the last meeting thinking we had an agreement and we have all gotten tickets since that hearing,” said Barbara Taylor, a veteran KCBS radio reporter who testified at a second committee hearing held July 21. “We have been getting tickets for things that we believe are technicalities.”
Other journalists who testified at the hearing told similar stories of receiving tickets, despite the parking and traffic agreement to honor expired permits.
“The problem has been that we have not seen much of a change in this interim period,” said Vickie Jenkins of KOIT radio. “We are still getting tickets for legitimate news coverage.”
Reporters said some tickets were canceled, but others required fines be paid.
Jocelyn Kane, a parking and traffic spokeswoman who spoke at the second hearing, admitted some mistakes were made, but she said the department has attempted to correct them.
At the same hearing the committee approved new guidelines sponsored by Supervisor Bill Maher that would return the responsibility for issuing press parking permits to the police department.
The legislation authorizes the department to issue press permits only to vehicles operated by “an employee of a newspaper, radio or television station, whose primary duty is to gather or photograph news events.”
The new guidelines also state:
? Each person for whom a vehicle press card is requested must hold a full-time position with a news-gathering organization and the person’s duties must primarily involve the actual gathering of news outside the main office.
? The police chief may request documentation or evidence to support any information on an application.
? Print media whose publications are not published more than once a month are not eligible.
Some journalists objected to the provision that disallows part-time reporters from receiving parking permits.
“We have reporters who choose to work part-time for a variety of reasons, but they are every bit the reporter that any other reporter is,” said Ken Berry, news director of KGO radio. “They should receive the same consideration as any other reporter.”
Maher amended the legislation to allow news agencies to receive parking permits for vehicles that could be used by several reporters, including part-timers.
KCBS’ Taylor said, “This is legislation that I believe goes a long way to curb abuse and protect the rights of reporters who do their jobs.”
?( Strupp is a free-lance writer) [Caption]