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Grand Jury (Day 10) – Low-Hanging Fruit

August 1st, 2005 by dk

Low-hanging fruit always looks the most attractive, but how often do we look at this from the fruit’s perspective? I got that opportunity today.

After a busy day of throwing the book at the bad guys, I returned to my car in the city garage. I had a parking violation because my car was not neatly between the white lines. There was a reason for this (the parking; not the ticket). The space was “open” because the car in the next space had parked very poorly. My car is small and I’m not very big either, so I maneuvered into the too-small space, carefully splitting the difference with my out-of-bounds vehicular neighbor. Thanks to my charitable gesture, the car on the opposite side from my space was given adequate room to get in and out. It was my little contribution to the betterment of mankind that morning.

And this is the thanks I get.

I settled for 80% of a space because somebody before me took a space-and-a-half. But by the time the city employee paid to write tickets happened on my car, maybe the infracting neighbor car was gone. Without that necessary context, my parking job looked sloppy and maybe a tad selfish on the opposite side. You could see what I took, but not what I gave.

From a purely economic view, the people who write parking tickets “earn their keep” far more than the cops and DAs chasing bad guys. One cruise through the Parcade can probably bring $300 into city coffers with only an hourly wage on the expense side of the ledger. Not many of us will fight or flee or tax the system in any other way. We’re the low-hanging fruit.

Bad guys do worse stuff taking the attention of many cops and sometimes damaging public property, but then they promise to return to court after they are matrixed out of jail. Expensive employees show up at the appointed time, but the bad guys often don’t. Wasted money. Then they get picked up again, sometimes repeat the cycle a few times, finally land in jail long enough to get themselves to a trial (more expense), and then into prison, which isn’t free either. So it’s an expensive proposition to get a single bad dude off the streets for even a few months. If that doesn’t teach them a lesson, the whole scene gets repeated.

So if you consider a pure cost-benefit analysis, keeping bad guys off the streets is a bad deal; dinging good people for not being good enough pays much better.

I’ve often complained, sometimes publicly, about parking policies for downtown Eugene. The reply I get from people who can change those policies, never in public, is that they need the money that paid parking provides. A fair question would be, how much revenue comes from the parking itself, and how much comes from the violation fees? Is frustrating good people the best way to finance local government?

I’m not sayin’ — I’m just askin’. I know people don’t like taxes but they like government services. (Me, I’m the opposite. I’d take my turn mowing the median strip grass if I could.) So making us into parking violators might be the only way they can find to pay for the jail beds for our ne’er-do-well brothers.

Low-hanging fruit. It’s a pain to get bit.

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