Signage to make public aware of option
On a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota City Commission approved a new ordinance that will allow drivers to back in vehicles in certain parking situations in the city.
None of the board members voiced any opposition to the proposal, which they had discussed in the past.
The new ordinance authorizes City Manager Marlon Brown to allow the practice “when deemed appropriate after consultation with the Parking Manager,” but no one would be able to back into an angled parking space in a city surface lot, a city parking garage or in a building where the city owns or controls parking spaces, according to the ordinance.
City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed out that the option would not apply to any spaces on the streets, either.
Where legal, he added, the decision to back in would be “at the driver’s discretion.”
Signage will be used to inform the public about where back-in parking is allowed, the discussion indicated.
When Commissioner Debbie Trice asked whether any of the parking enforcement staff had pushed back against the proposed change, Brown told her, “Not at all.”
“There is no issue,” Brown added, “other than [the fact that a city employee will] have to get out of their enforcement vehicle to read the tag.”
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch ended up making the motion to approve the new ordinance, and Commissioner Erik Arroyo seconded it.
While she supported the motion, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert noted, “I hate backing in,” though she acknowledged, “I know a lot of people like it.”
“I don’t like to back in, either,” Trice said with a laugh.
On Aug. 1 2022, then-Mayor Arroyo brought up the topic during the board’s meeting that day. He pointed out that backing into spaces is safer in some situations, especially, where little space is provided for each vehicle. He cited the surface lot at Marina Jack in downtown Sarasota as an example.
When then-Commissioner Hagen Brody asked Mark Lyons, general manager of the city’s Parking Division, whether Lyons had a “ballpark” figure for the number of citations city staff issued each year to drivers who had backed into public parking spaces, Lyons replied that the figure was about 10%.
“I have a problem with that,” Brody told Lyons. He does not believe people were violating the city regulation intentionally, Brody added.
“I think that some folks almost need to back into their space,” Brody continued, noting that he was referring to certain types of vehicles.
“I think we should allow this,” Brody told his colleagues.
The impetus behind the city’s prohibition on backing into public parking places, Lyons explained, is the fact that the State of Florida does not require front license plates. When officers of a law enforcement agency are searching for a specific vehicle, Lyons added, it is helpful if the officers easily can spot license plates.
Moreover, Lyons said, “Many vehicles park backwards just to hide their license plate,” because the vehicles are not registered properly.
When Arroyo asked Lyons whether he had any data about the number of criminals who had been arrested because officers were able to find their license plates as a result of the regulation banning back-in parking, Lyons responded that he would “have to dig into that further.”
Nonetheless, Lyons said, “On many occasions, there are people who have abated paying their parking citations,” who have been discovered through the reading of their tags in city lots and garages.
City Manager Brown did note that signage already allowed back-in parking in some public places within the city.
Yet, Lyons explained that the city ordinance did not exempt any of those areas from the prohibition on back-in parking. Staff simply does not enforce the regulation in regard to those specific spots, Lyons said.
When City Attorney Fournier suggested that he could bring back a draft of the new ordinance for board review, Brody replied, “I don’t want to clog up the commission’s time with this …”
Fournier said he would draft the motion for the members to review, and then they could authorize a public hearing on it.
Brody made the motion to direct the city manager and staff to draft the ordinance, using their discretion, and then bring it back for the formal direction to conduct the public hearing. Arroyo seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.