Dear Ms. Fergusson:
Just before 1 p.m. on Tuesday of last week I visited your city and took part in a business meeting at Stacks restaurant on Santa Cruz Avenue.
Before the meeting I parked my car in the lot behind the restaurant and, quite by chance, asked an "attendant" who was punching license plate numbers into a "black box" what was the time limit on parking. "Two hours," he told me.
After my meeting in the restaurant I returned to my car and realized I had left an address I needed in my office, an address I could easily snag from the Internet, so I asked a passer-by where I could obtain Internet access. I was directed to FedEx Kinkos, just across the street.
I looked around the parking lot; it was just before 3 p.m. and (by my best estimate) the parking lot was 50-60 percent occupied, so I convinced myself that the city of Menlo Park would not be dumb enough to fine people spending money in their city. So I decided to run across the road to Kinkos.
At 3:05 p.m. I returned to my car to find it had been ticketed. Next to the car was the "attendant" I had encountered on my way to my business meeting. "You asked me how long you had," he told me. "Just doing my job, just doing my job."
So much for the events that occurred, but now let's take a quick look at this.
1. It's obvious to me that the "attendant" targeted my car. He clearly "logged me in" at 12:52 p.m. and was back at the car at 3:03 p.m. According to the ticket I spent two hours and 11 minutes in the lot. He was waiting for me when I got back to my car. He wanted to "enjoy the moment," and as he said. . ."Just doing my job."
2. So your fair city has now "fined" me $37 for parking in a half-empty parking lot. You have every right to do this, but I'm not sure it's in your own best interest.
I recognize that cities need to control parking, but the circumstances I describe made me realize that this city really is dumb enough to fine people spending money in their city.
So Menlo Park wants to play games with people patronizing their local businesses. OK, I guess it's my serve.
3. I'm a businessman. I spend money in restaurants, in hotels, in gas stations, in gift shops, florists, and so on, and I have the right to choose where I spend my dollars.
Let me make it clear. It will not be in Menlo Park. I don't think it will take you long to realize that this is not a productive way to tax the people patronizing the stores in Menlo Park. You may make $37 here and there, but I promise you, I'm going to get my $37 back from Menlo Park by spending my dollars elsewhere and I'll encourage my business associates to do likewise. There are many viable alternatives quite close by.
4. It is not the $37 that bothers me. I can afford that. It is the process and the "packaging" of the tax you have chosen to levy on visitors to your city. It's the little black boxes to log the "ins and outs" of every car and the mindless monitor who is getting his kicks out of the "gotcha" process, regardless of its impact on your local community. George Orwell would have loved him.
Furthermore, it's the total lack of common sense that goes along with all this — ticketing cars in a half-empty parking lot and the penalizing store patrons. Perhaps you see things differently, but I think it's absurd. Would you go back to Stacks for another business meeting?
So, Menlo Park, enjoy my thirty-seven bucks. I'm going to enjoy getting a lot more of your dollars by not supporting Menlo Park stores and hotels. To your local businesses, my apologies, but you elected these folks. Now it's your serve.
P.S. I am forwarding this note to the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce. I would be interested to hear if chamber members have some thoughts on this issue.
Jim Walton lives in Sebastopol.