You may not know this — we certainly didn’t — but if your car is left parked in the same spot in Berkeley for 72 hours, it can be towed. Really.

This information comes to us courtesy of Berkeley City Council Member Gordon Wozniak’s latest District 8 newsletter, in which he cites the ordinance in question:

It is unlawful for any person to park or leave standing, or cause to be parked or left standing any vehicle upon any public street in the City for seventy-two or more consecutive hours. (Ord. 4006-NS § 1 (part), 1964: Ord. 3954-NS § 2, 1963) BMC Section 14.36.050.

Wozniak notes that the Berkeley police generally do not enforce this ordinance, unless there is a complaint, and mentions a recent case where it was put into effect: “Recently, a visitor of a District 8 resident parked his car on the street and left town for two weeks. A neighbor complained and a warning notice was placed on the car. Since no one noticed the warning, the vehicle was towed after three days. When the visitor returned from his trip, he had to pay $2,000 to the towing company to recover his vehicle. [The vehicle owner is liable for the towing and storage charges, which can exceed $100/day.]”

The “72-Hour Rule” applies to any public street in the city, regardless of other parking designations or restrictions.

You have been warned.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. Simone,

    It’s just not so that street sweeping tickets work at keeping the street clear for sweeping. They don’t. Those tickets are high by my standard but, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty low. I’ve seen people just accept and pay those tickets for months on end, never moving the car, as debris accumulates behind it and eventually promises to escape down to the sewer drain and cause a problem. You couldn’t raise them high enough to discourage such abuse unless you raised them so high that they would be unfair to most people who just get such tickets by accident every now and again. Red tagging and removal is a more appropriate incentive.

    So, why not 7 days instead of 3? Or maybe 10 or 14 days? That I don’t feel too strongly about.

  2. Adding comments on this one very late:

    Come on, some people actually think this is a good law? It’s just a way fro the city to randomly raise money.

    I live on a block, where all of the neighbors actually get alone. We wouldn’t tattle on one another’s cars….but about half of us don’t have driveways. It’s a mixed use block – mostly homes, a few apartment buildings, MANY duplexes, many homes with no driveway.

    Ummm..yeah, I might park in front of my neighbor’s house. It’s not THEIR space. It’s OUR street parking. Ditto if they park near my house. On average, I park about 3/4 of a block from my front door unless it’s a Saturday. Good enough fro me!

    I’ve had friends in the nearby Berkeley hills tell me about people getting annoyed fi someone parks near their house and feeling as if the space right in front of their house is “theirs”. Come on, get a life – those folks need something real to worry about.

    But forcing the people who LIVE here to move there car randomly for no good reason every 72 hours is NUTS!

    We are near to two BART stations, and I often go many days without driving – as do my neighbors. When I go on vacation for a week, I should get to leave my car on MY street. I think if it’s within some number of meters of one’s home, then it should NOT be 72 hours. Maybe more like 10 days. It’s not like I want to force a neighbor to move my car for NO GOOD REASON!

    The 72 hour rule doesn’ t help clear the street for street sweeping. That was a dumb comment. Getting a fat ticket on street sweeping days clears the street for street sweeping.

    I feel like this law is a very strange one. Having an inoperable vehicle sitting out on the street for days on end could be covered by having a rule that is say 7 or 10 or 14 days, instead of **3 days***.

    We already have “two hour permits” required – so it’s not like random folks are parking their cars here who don’t live or work nearby.

  3. I am the neighbor whose friends had their car towed. Our nasty neighbor, without asking any neighbors, called the police about a parked car. The neighbor was unhappy that a car was parked in front of their house. Our relationship with this neighbor has been permanently damaged.
    There are all sorts of ways to check on such cars, for one, maybe calling the neighbor? The potential for mischief is large, there should be a way for neighborhood residents to simply put a note in their car window telling the viewer where they are living.
    Regarding California law, there are many ways for a city like Berkeley, caring about its neighborhoods, to deal with it. Berkeley could easily augment this law by requiring the complaining person to ask at least two neighbors about the offending car.
    Thank you for all of your thoughts on this potentially serious problem that can impact all of us, and not just for the one or two who are being punished. How long will your next vacation be?

  4. Dave R:

    You wrote: “For now, accept that BPD will enforce the 72 hr limit on cars that have been REPORTED and then CONFIRMED by the officer as unmoved for over 72 hours. If it is registered to a nearby home, I’m sure the officer will attempt contact to get the car moved.”

    You are mistaken. The pattern I saw in the case I saw was of one neighbor whose car sat for months and months, inoperable, *next to* a resident of the same building whose car was repeatedly called in for small amounts of over-parking. In the case at hand, because there was then an ongoing dispute between these two neighbors, it is not a bad guess that the one whose car was never cited was the one calling in the complaints about the car repeatedly cited. At no point did the police make any attempt whatsoever to contact the owner of the repeatedly cited car, other than the red sign posted on the car. At no point did the police take any notice of the other, much more egregiously over-parked car – even in spite of its having receiving street-sweeping citations for many months running without ever once moving (and while accumulating a lot of detritus around it).

  5. Parking and traffic always brings out all the contradictions in Berkeley discussions.

    My observations are these:

    – Streets including parking spaces are public resources owned by the city. The land is owned by everyone. It is a “commons.” The use of this land needs to be regulated so that it is both efficient and equitable. We individually don’t “own” on street parking spaces whether it be in front of our house, down the street on our block or any where else. It seems reasonable to me to limit the length of time a vehicle can be parked in one place. Individuals shouldn’t be able to hog it.

    Some environmental advocates have argued that free on street parking is implicitly a big subsidy for people who own and operate cars. While this might be a majority of households in Berkeley, people without cars end up being shorted. While its great that people who rely on their feet, bicycles or transit but still own a car, drive less than others, if they park on the street they are getting a subsidy. Car sharing might be one way to address this problem.

    – There can be no expectation of privacy on the street. If its on the street, it isn’t private by definition.

    – The 72 hour limit isn’t really 72 hours. My experience with this is that neighbors will call after a few days of seeing an unfamilar car parked in the neighborhood. Then the police come within a day or so to place a warning tag on it. Only then does the 72 hour (3 day) clock start to run. Then the police come within a day or so of the end of the 72 hours to ticket and to arrange for the car to be towed. If the car is moved before it is ticketed, the timeline starts over. Unless there’s an over enthusiastic neighbor, the parking limit is closer to a week than 3 days. I think that’s reasonably long enough for one car to occupy one publicly owned space.

  6. Don’t bash the City for the 72 hour limit. It’s written in Sec. 22651(k) of the Calif. Vehicle Code. It authorizes removal (towing) of a car in violation of a local 72 hour ordinance. Virtually every city and county in the state of California has enacted such an ordinance to prevent the wholesale dumping and/or storing of unused or inoperable vehicles.
    The City also doesn’t determine or receive any part of the towing and storage fees. Those daily fees are established and collected by the towing companies.
    As to the complaint that no signs were posted, I guess we go back to that old saw “Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse”. At last count I noted over 42,200 sections (laws) in the Calif. Vehicle Code. If any jurisdiction tried to post signs advising people of all the things they’re supposed to know, there would be quite a jungle of unsightly signs on every block of every street.
    California has done what virtually every other state has done and that is to publish copious quantities of Vehicle Code books and make them available to the driving public at DMV offices. We, the drivers and vehicle owners of the state are expected to learn and abide by the rules that govern us. There are several chapters of “Rules of the Road” that drivers must know. There are several pages of rules just for bicyclists. There are many chapters of equipment laws that we’re expected to know. Go buy and read a Vehicle Code. You’ll be mind boggled! (But you’ll learn a LOT of helpful stuff!)
    These new camera/GPS/Computer cameras could be a great tool, but Berkeley doesn’t have them. For now, accept that BPD will enforce the 72 hr limit on cars that have been REPORTED and then CONFIRMED by the officer as unmoved for over 72 hours. If it is registered to a nearby home, I’m sure the officer will attempt contact to get the car moved. If not, it will surely get towed. I sure don’t want to suggest that cops or meter maids should chalk the tires of EVERY car on EVERY street to attempt fair and equal enforcement. They don’t have the time for it and we shouldn’t want them to spend their time doing that.

  7. s z underwood,

    In broad strokes, I share your concerns about Big Brother – just not in the details of the substance of what I proposed. The cameras mounted on enforcement carts aren’t monitored by persons. They are aimed so as to capture license plates so unlikely to capture much else. There is no need for data retention beyond, say, a week – except in cases of violation. On top of that the auxiliary functions I mentioned (e.g., flagging plugged up sewer drains) is likely to be functionality under the control of a human operator (for which purposes the camera is an ancillary convenience – all that’s needed for that is the GPS component and the computer). This all seems fairly banal.

    For big brother concerns, compare and contrast to, for example, Google street-view cars with their 360-degree cameras, indefinitely long data retention, public disclosure, etc. I’d be more worried about the private sector becoming Big Brother at this level. At least with government, we have a theoretical potential to establish transparency in the operation of the data collection.

    The “green police” video you link to is amusing – thanks – but I don’t think it leads one to the conclusion that Berkeley should not do routine air quality and sonic quality monitoring if it is cheap and easy to do so.

    You mention Mr. Wozniak’s analysis. I find one objectionable aspect of it and a different aspect that supports my proposal for cameras:

    The objectionable part is, of course, the treatment of parking enforcement as a revenue source to be administered to maximize return on investment. Yes, I know that this attitude is commonplace in nearly every city in the country and yet that doesn’t make it ethical. Policing is not a for profit business, it is a regulatory function undertaken for public benefit. We don’t chalk cars in unmetered spaces to turn a buck – we chalk them (or should chalk them) to ensure that residential permit holders get their reasonable and sanctified-in-law due preferential access. I’m not absolutist in this – I don’t mind the City turning *some* profit here (better than the alternative) but the aim is not that profit, it’s the fair and agreed upon administration of parking rights.

    Mr. Wozniak does suggest that the cameras could be a very good investment when he mentions the issue of repetitive stress injuries from chalking. With the cameras, that problem would go away. Also, enforcement officers could process more miles per hour thereby helping to relieve his concerns about the cost of enforcing in non-metered areas.

  8. This is State Law, which Berkeley adopted, and applies on ANY public property in this state and many others.

    I had a vehicle towed in TX for this violation of 3 days, with nothing posted on the vehicle, and have heard of this in other states.

    Don’t blame Berkeley- and don’t blame the complaint driven process. Sue the people making fraudulent claims, and adhere to the law.

  9. Thomas: I applaud your creative thinking. Berkeley certainly needs to think outside the box it has created for itself. Berkeley “innovation” and “ingenuity” are certainly overrated.

    That said, I am concerned about the Orwellian implications of ubiquitious camera enforcement (“Big Brother is Watching You”). In terms of further deputizing meter maids to become a sort of all purpose “Green Police”, I refer you to this tongue in cheek ad which you probably saw:

    Maybe you personally are always in perfect compliance with all environmental rules and regulations, zoning ordinances etc., but remember that many so-called “law abiding citizens” also see no problem creating a police state based on their perception that they “have nothing to hide.” Civil liberties and the Bill of Rights are intended to protect the rights of citizens against unreasonable search and seizure and to protect their “right to privacy” which I assume extends beyond the womb?

    On the substance of your proposal, I refer you to this analysis of the cost effectiveness of parking enforcement based on an an 2004 analysis commissioned by Gordon Wozniak reported as follows:

    At a time when city government officials are scrambling around for money to close a continuing budget deficit, Berkeley City Council’s resident research scientist—Councilmember Gordon Wozniak—says he has looked into the budgetary returns on the city’s 23 parking enforcement officers and come to a conclusion: spend more time on meter enforcement and less time patrolling unmetered zones.

    “At some point you face the issue of diminishing returns,” Wozniak said of the city’s enforcement of the parking ordinance in unmetered areas. “I want to see some better analysis, but to issue a ticket in a residential area, the officer has to make two passes, one to chalk the tires and a second to check when the time’s up.” In addition to the double work—it only takes one drive-through to determine if a meter has run out—Wozniak contends that the chalking has an additional cost to the city: three enforcers have been out on disability this year. “They get carpal tunnel syndrome from chalking the tires,” the councilmember said.

    “The cost of one [parking] enforcement position, including the vehicle, runs about $100,000 a year,” Wozniak said, in explaining the budget figures behind his conclusion. But after the City Council authorized five more positions last year, he said that total revenues increased only six percent—less than the cost of the five new enforcers and their accompanying vehicles.

    Complete article:

  10. s z underwood,

    There are at least a couple of options for enforcement, described below. Also, don’t forget that parking enforcement is a separate division from the regular police and is a division that pulls in more revenue than it costs to operate.

    First, I’m not so sure that chalking is all that absurd an idea. Last I know of, we have 20 some parking enforcement officers. 100 some-odd miles of roads – I don’t know the exact numbers. Let’s be generous and say 200 miles and 20 FTEs so that’s 10 miles per officer. We already chalk non-permitted cars on many streets. Checking for over-parked cars every, say, 5 days on average doesn’t sound so unaffordable or undoable. It may very well help with cases like the missing student you linked to or, more ordinarily, with finding stolen and abandoned cars.

    Second, if we can afford the up front capital equipment costs: there are camera / GPS / computer combos that can be fit onto those little parking enforcement carts which *entirely eliminate* the need for chalking, at all. Just drive around, 10-15 miles per hour, and the system reads off license plates and keeps track of what cars are where and for how long. Given how that would increase the efficiency of labor, such equipment (suitably priced) could easily pay for itself. (Plus the City would save money on chalk 🙂 Apparently Davis, CA is an example of one city that uses such cameras.

    There would be privacy implications to watch out for with such a system. The City (and most likely its third party contractor) would necessarily wind up with a short-term database of exactly which cars are where. That’s not something to take too lightly. It could be handled well, though.

    If you wanted to be really radical, you could expand the mission of the traffic enforcement carts to be multi-purpose environmental monitoring systems. If Berkeley actually owned its own cameras and computers and owned and operated its own copies of the computer software (including having complete source code) then such a system could be programmed to recognize more than just license plates – e.g., to notice (perhaps with operator assistance) plugged up storm drains, illegal garbage dumping, etc. If the system were well designed, it would be easy and inexpensive to equip it with, for example, chemical sensors to monitor pollution levels or acoustic sensors to monitor noise levels.

  11. Our street parking is pretty heavily impacted by a combination of retail spill-over, BART spill-over, and people using it as airport long-term parking. It’s made even worse when people park like jerks, taking up 2 spaces when it’s obvious (to me, at least) that it’d be easy to take up only one space.

    So, a few months back I reluctantly called BPD to report a car that had been sitting for weeks, parked at such a weird angle (taking up 2 spaces) that made me think the driver had started the Burning Man hallucinogenics early. I wouldn’t normally have cared, but it stressed out my pregnant wife to come home after a stressful commute to a street devoid of available parking spaces with this badly-parked car hogging two spaces right in front of our house.

    I hope the owner of the car didn’t get extorted too badly by the towing service, and I hope whatever it cost didn’t break them financially, but I don’t regret having them towed.

    Anecdote aside, I agree that it’s a problem to have uneven / selective enforcement of an ordinance that is on its face overly strict, but I don’t know of a better way to maintain the balance of keeping the streets cleared of abandoned vehicles yet allowing for the fact that not everyone actually moves their cars every few days. Sure, people can game the current system to treat each other badly, but that’s also true of many otherwise-worthwhile aspects of society.

  12. I would just repeat that it seems to me that if we are going to call ourselves a “green” city, people should be able to park their cars for longer than three days. I don’t want some neighbor to decide that my car has been parked “too long” and I never know that it has been tagged (I predominantly leave my house in one direction, so if I happen to park in the other direction I may not pass my car for days or weeks at a time).

    Perhaps we could certify our cars as “operational” (they run fine) and only be able to certify one car licensed driver. It seems that people in neighborhoods with stickers are half-way there–we’ve already documented that we LIVE in the neighborhood. Or, police could make it a policy to look up and PHONE people who they receive complaints against–but then I still have to move my car as long as the three-day law is on the books.

  13. Thomas, I am puzzled by your alternative proposal. By what other means could this oridinance be enforced at all other than by “complaint”? Would meter maids use 72 hr. chalk marks on every car in the city and then circle by again to see what car has actually moved? As I and someone else noted, once the police are notified (usually after the car has been blocking a spot for at least three days), they tag the car to notify the owner that it must be moved within 72 hrs. (another three days). Normally, in my experience, the police do not return promptly in 72 hrs. to follow up. In fact, I don’t think they follow up at all unless they are called out again (since this is low priority it can take several calls and a day or two more). Perhaps you recall this missing persons case in Berkeley in which his vehicle had been abandoned on Allston Way for a number of months (possibly as many as six months):

    Clearly, without a “complaint driven” process, this would be yet another meaningless/unenforced ordinance on the books.

  14. Alan,

    The “gaming” has nothing to do with false complaints, it has to do with unevenly applied enforcement. Two neighbors at war – both with overparked cars. One with an economic upper hand has a dysfunctional car overparked for weeks and months at a time – the other suddenly starts getting cited for 24-48 hours of overparking. Both neighbors are in the wrong in the sense that they weren’t vigilant about the street sweeping issues and the problems consequently caused to the sewer system. BDP is in the wrong for giving the one a pass and citing the other. Cite neither. Cite both. Either way. But don’t have such a narrow interpretation of “complaint driven” enforcement that two adjacent violations receive such disparate treatment.

    Also: yes, I agree with you that *often* (not always) BDP is sensitive to people who are abusing the complaint-driven process such as when you got the courtesy knock on the door and heads up. There is a heck of a lot right and good about BDP, no doubt partly owing to its rich progressive history. They’re just wrong about this one issue — surely the parking enforcement officers can be equipped to and have a routine of enforcing the 72 hour rule evenly.

  15. Though this is apparently discretionary, police can post a “three-day notice” on a lingering car’s windshield to give the owner a chance to move it (if s/he’s not on a long vacation!). This helps to prevent false reports from malicious neighbors.

    And the cops are often more helpful. When one of my crankier neighbors complained that I’d parked my car for EXACTLY three days in front of her house, the responding officer ran a plate check and then knocked on our door to let us know of the “problem” that we could quickly correct.

  16. A few observations:

    The ordinance is actually a good one for, when it goes unenforced, problems arise. For example, street cleaning can’t proceed on a timely schedule (and it takes much longer to get towed for accumulated street sweeping tickets) and on many streets the consequences are damage to the sewer system. Another example: neglected cars, on many streets, attract crime.

    What’s not-so-good, in my opinion, is the complaint-driven enforcement of the ordinance. In my experience, that creates “gaming” of the system among neighbors who have some dispute among themselves. That is to say, I’ve seen the complaint process invoked specifically to harass a neighbor and in spite of there being at least one other (inoperative!) vehicle right next to the cited vehicle where the harassed persons’ car had been over-parked for perhaps 24-48 hours while the inoperative vehicle had not moved for *months*. BDP makes a policy error when it uses complaint-driven enforcement in a way that supports that kind of game playing.

    Also some trivia: Some people like to store inoperative vehicles on their property. You know, that old junker that you have half a mind to perhaps someday clean up and restore? Nope. Ordinance 12.98.020. (I’ve not seen that one invoked, though.)

    Here’s another good one that should probably eventually get challenged in court: 13.32.010. Only men are permitted to fully expose their breasts in public, at least per the ordinance. We actually have an ordinance that extends greater freedom to males. Personally, I think it would be kind of amusing if a post-op (top surgery) male TV/gender-queer were to challenge that ordinance with some public displays.

  17. This has always seemed like a horribly “un-green” law. I drive my car maybe once every two weeks; sometimes I’ll go a whole month without driving it. So I’m supposed to go through the trouble of moving it just so those who don’t want “clutter” in their neighborhood? And, I live in a fairly car-impacted neighborhood, so if I move my car, there may not be a parking place nearby to move it to.

    It seems that at least Berkeley could change the law so that if you have a neighborhood parking permit you don’t need to move your car.

  18. $2,000 seems criminal. We had our car stolen in Albany and recovered a few days later in Richmond. We rushed over to the tow yard in Richmond and were charged over $600 (they tried to mischarge us even more) to “recover” our stolen car. It brought to mind who is the real “thief” here?

    On our block, we do occasionally have some nearby auto repair shops which lack the space to warehouse their vehicles dump them on our block for extended periods of time. We usually wait at least three days to complain to the BPD. Then, it gets tagged and that’s another three days (actually more, since they don’t generally come back to follow up on it unless you ask the police).

    We have only seen one car actually towed from our street and it was abandoned for at least two weeks.

  19. Undoubtedly there are many pros and cons to this ordinance. $2000 seems far too punitive to the unwitting motorist in question, especially when there are no warning signs on streets.

    On the other hand, there are some who take too much advantage of limited street parking, like the guy who owns five vintage pickup trucks and has nowhere to put them. Or the retired couple who shows up in the neighborhood with their huge vacation trailer every spring and park it for two months.