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Hope is to use local comments to spur action on better handicap parking enforcement

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Handicap parking abuse has become an issue locally.A Prineville planning commissioner is asking people inconvenienced by abuse of handicap parking spaces to share their experiences in hopes of helping curb the abuse.

Bob Orlando, who utilizes the handicap parking spaces, began investigating misuse of handicap parking spaces in Prineville this past spring. His research revealed several issues that he hopes to address.

One problem is that people are using handicap placards that have been altered. The expiration dates have been changed, and people are either using one that belonged to a deceased relative or are borrowing an expired one from a friend or family member.

"I have seen kids pull into those handicap spots with a placard and all of them get out of the car and run into the store," he said.

The issue, Orlando has discovered, is that the DMV writes the expiration date of the placard with a marker, which can easily be erased. All people need to do then is write a new expiration date on the placard.

Another problem Orlando has encountered during his research is that some people will simply park in the handicap spot with no placard present and no apparent need for the special parking space.

Because local police resources are limited, it is difficult to enforce these parking violations. Funds are not available to pay an officer to patrol local parking lots and cite people who park in handicap spots illegally.

Orlando has also discovered that the problem is not limited to drivers. Some local businesses have failed to repair or replace damaged handicap parking signs.

"Without the sign and the stenciling on the spot, the people parking there without placards are parked legally," he explained. "We are not going to get anywhere with (the abuse) until the people who are in control of the parking lots upgrade the signage or bring the signage back to spec as far as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is concerned."

Following his research, Orlando began working on a plan to limit handicap parking abuse that he could present to the city planning commission. Part of that initially included use of an app that people could download to their smartphones that enables them to report parking violations to local police.

Orlando has used the app and says it works great, however, he has discovered that it can lead to confrontations with the offending drivers.

"If people see you taking pictures of their cars parked in that spot to send in a report, they get extremely confrontational," he said.

More recently, Orlando has begun soliciting testimony from people who have encountered abuse of handicap parking spaces.

"Through Facebook, I have found out that there are a lot of people who have been really inconvenienced," he said. "I have encouraged people to write to (City Planning Director) Phil Stenbeck or myself and let us know what their feelings are because like anything else in this town, things happen and things get done if they are complaint-generated."

Orlando hopes to receive enough written testimony to spark some action against the abuse, however that come. But even if that happens, he acknowledges it will take a lot of work to limit or eradicate the problem.

"It's going to be an uphill battle," he said.

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