Pain for Parents - Plea for Relief

Jackie Fenaroli
Pain for Parents - Plea for Relief

Murrieta Valley School parents are having more than their fair share of challenges on the streets around campus and the end isn't in sight. Student drop-off is more than an inconvenience or a difficult start to an otherwise engaging and positive school day. Many Parents have been plagued with traffic infractions as result of the City of Murrieta's intent to aggressively prosecute parking sign violations by compelling parents to Superior Court. Once there, the consequences of ignoring the infraction result in an automatic arrest warrant, additional penalties, and can lead to drivers' license suspensions and even arrests for alleged parking sign violations.

At this point the City Powers are overshadowing the good work being done on the Murrieta Valley School District campuses. Parents are outraged and at a loss of what to do to improve a situation that is unfair and out of control. And parents aren't alone in their powerlessness. Police are stuck enforcing overzealous parking sign limits and ordered to leverage traffic bottlenecks, campus chaos and lack of drop-off places curbside into increases in the Traffic Bureau's "performance metrics."

The city needs to consult with parents and students, the school district and neighboring communities about how this situation might be improved with adjustments to both vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic patterns. Instead, Murrieta parents are hearing of plans to hire more police and will experience the resultant pressure on those traffic patrol officers to issue a sufficient number of tickets to justify their employment. We are moving from bad to worse and will all suffer for it.

Mapping the infraction locations shows that the vast majority have been issued around Murrieta public schools during morning student drop-off.

Murrieta Valley High School Traffic Ticket Map

A total of $167,329 in fines has been levied by Riverside Superior Court mostly for parking sign violations to parents starting in 2012 to 2014 and predominately around the three Murrieta high schools, Murrieta Valley High School, Vista Murrieta, and Murrieta Mesa; two local middle schools, Thompson and Shivela; and Buchanan Elementary School.

Before 2012 no such traffic infractions were issued. That means that before 2012, no one was receiving criminal traffic infractions for parking sign violations around Murrieta Schools or anywhere else in the city. 2012 was also the year that Murrieta residents voted to end the "Red Light Camera Ticket Program" on a ballot initiative led by current City Council Candidate Diana Serafin.

Public records show that five hundred twenty traffic infractions have been issued for alleged parking sign violations.

The numbers only get worse; and the parking situation near our schools only grows more arduous. Between 2012 and 2014, seventy-one automatic arrest warrants were issued to Murrieta Parents as a result of the aggressive prosecution, and eighty-three cases resulted in fines and penalties between $600 and $1,000. No surprise to anyone, about 70% of parents just paid the fine rather than challenging the infraction in Superior Court, which is intimidating, and court bailiff says cases are rarely decided in the defendant's favor. Only 11% of cases were dismissed and those mainly because the ticketing officer failed to appear in court. One wonders why.

Excessive Fines, Warrants and Court Appearances from Stopping near Murrieta Valley Schools

The base fine for the violations that parents are being strapped with at school drop-off is $238, a 138% increase over what the state maximum allows for parking sign violations. That fine jumps $300 when an automatic warrant is issued in criminal court for ignoring the parking ticket.

When you consider that the base fine alone is equivalent to approximately four tanks of gas, eighty school lunches and a week or more of childcare, you recognize that the city's intent is having a real impact on the lives in this community, and the hardship on parents is striking.

What we need to remember is that the stopping situation around Murrieta public schools, along with the aggressive prosecution of infractions is more than just a bureaucratic game. It is creating real financial and emotional hardships for local parents.

Mark Higareda and his wife both received parking infractions after dropping off their children at Thompson Middle School in 2012 and Murrieta Valley High School in 2013, for a total of $1,197 in fines and penalties. Mark complained about the heavy traffic congestion in the mornings. He talked about feeling entrapped when, to avoid the chaotic drop-off scene at the Murrieta Valley High School campus, he momentarily stopped on Fullerton Road on the back side of the school, and he received a ticket.

That ticket resulted in a warrant for his arrest, which he ignored in a fruitless protest of an unjust citation. Mark boils down the situation as many parents do when he says, "I just want to drop my kids off at school safely and go to work. I don't need this."

Countless stories and court testimony show parents and grandparents who have been forced to pay burdensome fines and fees, face warrants, and appear in court, all for attempting to drop their children off at school in the safest way they can.

Parents like Tamra Hauer, who was stopped in the school driveway to drop off her daughter, still find themselves on the receiving end of tickets from Murrieta Police Officers. Public records research of infraction records shows the officer who issued Tamra her ticket issued five more tickets in a twenty-minute span in front of Shivela Middle School that one morning. To get her bail monies back, Tamra was compelled to appear in court and her infraction was ultimately dismissed when the officer failed to show, as was the typical case when a parent contested the ticket.

Grandmother Beatrice Chadwick and her husband are raising a grandson, a ninth grader, and she received a ticket the first time she dropped her grandson off on the backside of the Murrieta Valley High School in August 2013. She sent a handwritten plea to the court complaining of the high fine and burden on a household already suffering high medical costs, car trouble and a death in the family. "And here we are good old people raising a grandson and no money and no mercy."

Many stagger under the weight of fines, penalties and court appearances. Some residents had to set up payment plans of $50 a month to pay down the fines or suffer severe consequences. Another attempted to defend herself in court but was ultimately unable to appear when she couldn't find childcare.

And so the hardships continue and the stress mounts. Just this year the city increased the NO PARKING zone around Murrieta Valley High School Campus by re-signing a parking place at the knuckle of Fullerton Road and Douglas Avenue where the road widens, traffic is light and neighboring homes are non-existent. Parents had been stopping there safely for years to drop off kids at school. These thoughtless sign changes indicate someone just doing as they were told rather than using sound engineering judgment as required by the CA State Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Pressure to Issue Traffic Infractions is Tough on Murrieta Police who would Rather Focus on Safety

The Murrieta School community knows all too well how important traffic safety is. And that includes the police officers, the vast majority of whom, we have to assume, have chosen their careers with a desire to protect and serve our community, to keep us safe in and around our schools and our neighborhoods. Most police officers enter the force with childhood dreams of being Officers of the Peace, protectors of the innocent and fighters of crime.

They don't dream of, and dedicate their lives to, writing tickets to meet performance metrics while police departments claim they don't have ticket quotas because those are prohibited by California Law. This pressure saps morale and leads to callousness and disregard for rights.

Will the Powers that Want-to-Be Continue their Malintent at the Expense of the Community?

There doesn't seem to be relief on the horizon when seven of the nine Murrieta Council Candidates for the upcoming election endorse hiring more police officers to achieve a magic ratio of 1 officer to 1,000 residents. That would mean hiring approximately 19 additional officers. With Murrieta public officials crowing about the lack of crime in the city and their claims that Murrieta is one of the safest cities in America, what will these extra officers do other than write tickets for revenue?

The seven Council Candidates seem to be out of touch with parents who have a growing resentment for unjust ticketing and the real financial drain that aggressive prosecution puts on families in our community. Campaign literature seems to suggest only two council candidates, Diane Serafin and Jonathon Ingram, are not robotically parroting the need to hire more police.

Parent Ruth Gibson was issued a ticket when she stopped momentarily one day to pick up her sick daughter waiting curbside in front of school. Her court testimony echoes that of many Murrieta parents who value safety over aggressive prosecution. "As a mom, I was worried and will protect my children. If this warrants this ticket to stand, then so be it. What is a mother to do?"

About the Author

Jackie Fenaroli - Guest Contributor

Jackie Fenaroli is a parent of children attending Murrieta Valley Schools, wife, engineer and small business owner. She believes those citizens with the wear-with-all and courage have a civic duty to push back against government encroachment of the people's rights to protect those less able.