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A free ride with disabled parking permit? Maybe, but tough to enforce

Gary Shervey knows for a fact that there are dead people in Portland whose disabled parking placards are still in use.

Shervey, parking code enforcement officer for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, has walked the downtown parking beat for 16 years. When he comes across a car displaying a placard at a metered space he calls in the placard number so a dispatcher can verify that it’s being used legally by the owner of the car.

Occasionally the dispatcher informs Shervey that the owner of the placard he’s looking at has died. That prompts Shervey to place a $720 citation on the vehicle’s windshield. But that doesn’t mean that whoever is using the dead person’s placard will have to pay.

Shervey says he once issued a citation to a woman using a placard of a dead person, and then he appeared in court to testify in the case. The woman who had used the placard testified that yes, she was using her dead husband’s placard, and yes, he had died two years previously, but that seeing the placard comforted her.

“It reminded her of her husband,” Shervey recalls. He also recalls the judge’s response — he voided the ticket.

A downtown tour with Shervey can be enlightening. Especially when Shervey approaches City Hall or the county courthouse, where he sees many of the same cars with disabled placards parked every day.

“Some days you go, ‘Oh my gosh, the whole block is disabled,’ ” Shervey says.

He calls blocks near government offices “hot spots.” And he says he rarely confronts drivers who are using disabled placards because most of their cars sit in place all day.

Southwest Taylor Street between Third and Fourth avenues is one of those regular hot spots, Shervey says. On a Thursday morning there are seven cars parked in a row, all with disabled placards. Parking spaces on Fourth Avenue around Washington and Alder streets also are mostly occupied by cars with disabled parking permits. The Alder, which provides low-income housing, sits on Fourth Avenue.

Shervey sees people walking from cars they have parked with disabled parking placards but he is not allowed to question drivers about their disabilities. He can only phone in the placard numbers and license plates to see if the placards are valid and if the right people are using them.

Portland issues about 200 citations a year for placard violations.

When Shervey comes across a Washington state disabled placard he calls that in, too, for a check. But other out-of-state placards he gives a pass. Portland, unlike some cities, honors placards from out of state, which cannot be checked for validity.

In front of Geraldi’s on 4th, a sandwich shop across from The Alder, Matt Weiler says he has seen a car with a disabled placard parked on Fourth Avenue for four or five days in a row without moving.

Ironically, Weiler, who says he is a co-owner of Geraldi’s, parks his own Toyota 4-Runner on the street in front of his restaurant every day, arriving before 8 a.m. and leaving in the late afternoon. And yes, he has a disabled parking placard.

Geraldi’s other owner, Joanne Wojciechowski, suffers from pain in her foot related to gout and tendinitis, and Weiler drives her in each day and keeps the car out front, even acknowledging he’s potentially keeping it from use by his restaurant’s customers. He could, he says, drop Wojciechowski off at the restaurant and park the car in a nearby lot, where there are plenty of disabled parking spaces all lined up, almost all of them empty.

Weiler agrees with experts that maintaining free unlimited parking is contributing to the glut of disabled parking permits he sees along Fourth Avenue.

“They’re looking for a free ride,” he says. “There are a lot of people doing that here.”