CRACKING DOWN

Livingston increases focus on parking, ordinance issues
Thursday, August 9, 2018

Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Alex Hughes, Livingston’s full-time code enforcement officer, stands in front of a van stickered for being abandoned in Livingston. Hughes, who is also a patrolman, started enforcing codes full time July 1, issuing almost 100 tickets in a month.

For the first time in years, the city of Livingston has gone on the offensive against violations of its extensive ordinance codes, including abandoned vehicles, trailers being on the street for more than five days and blight.

The Livingston Police Department took over code enforcement in April, and a full-time officer was switched over to focus on ordinance violations on July 1.

And in his first month on the job, Livingston Code Enforcement Officer Alex Hughes made quite an impression.

Hughes gave out almost 100 tickets for code enforcement violations; including 39 parking tickets;15 tickets for abandoned vehicles; 35 tickets for other code violations, including blight and property complaints; and seven tickets for animals. He also warned owners of 13 different abandoned cars and trailers they would have to move the vehicles within five days or be impounded. Ten owners complied. The total revenue brought by booting vehicles in July totaled $1,180.

Overall, the Livingston Police Department, including Hughes, gave out 61 tickets for cars that didn’t move when the street sweeper came.

The city was unable to provide context for the amount of tickets Hughes gave out compared to prior years because, despite having 34 parking ordinances on the books, the city of Livingston had little enforcement and less record-keeping.

“We had better statistics in 1991 than we do today,” City Manager Mike Kardoes said Wednesday.

But for many residents, Hughes’ enforcement and the city’s extensive codes still haven’t gone far enough.

For others, parking their trailers and boats on the streets is a necessary part of life in a town that relies on outdoor tourism for its livelihood.

 

‘There’s a lot to do’

When the idea of a code enforcement officer was raised, Police Chief Dale Johnson wasn’t sure how busy the job would be.

But so far, it’s been incredibly busy.

“Based on the number of city codes we have, there’s a lot to do,” Johnson said. “Alex has been staying busy and doing a good job.”

Johnson said the focus has been on compliance in the construction zone this summer, making sure cars move when the street sweeper is supposed to drive by, as well as abandoned vehicles and trailers and blight in yards.

He said right now, the downtown isn’t a focus because the two-hour parking signs aren’t up, but it will be soon.

Hughes said he applied for the job because he wanted to concentrate on blight — even as a patrolman he tried to crack down on abandoned vehicles — but so far, it’s been busier than he thought it might be.

“It’s never ending,” Hughes said. “Because the city has been lax in code enforcement for so long, there’s a lot of catching up to do.”

With so many codes on the books and dozens of miles of city streets, enforcement isn’t going to catch everyone, Kardoes said.

“One person can’t do it all,” Kardoes said. “It’s probably more like speeding. We aren’t going to catch everyone, but we hope to do enough to discourage the behavior.”

Hughes said the department isn’t using ticketing as a money-making endeavor.

“We’re not trying to get a new patrol car,” Hughes said.

Kardoes agreed.

“We’re not here to give out tickets — we’re trying to get you to move your car,” Kardoes said.

 

Multitude of issues

During an update on code enforcement at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners expressed support for the code enforcement officer but said there is a need for even more enforcement.

To Commissioner Warren Mabie, there seem to be four major parking issues affecting Livingston: abandoned vehicles sitting on city streets and in city alleys for years; people parking in front of other people’s houses, not allowing home owners a place to park; vehicles and trailers parking too long in one place, not even moving for intersections or allowing neighbors to park near their homes; and intersections with trailers and motorhomes blocking views at the intersections.

“And three of the four can be remedied easily,” Mabie said.

The most difficult issue to deal with is people parking in front of someone else’s home and just not doing anything with their car for weeks or months on end.

“Anybody can park in front of your house at any time and leave their vehicle there,” Mabie said.

Chairwoman Dorel Hoglund raised the idea of raising the fees for parking ordinance violations in order to increase compliance.

Commissioner Mel Friedman said he sees the need for more enforcement of the city’s parking codes because many intersections are very difficult to navigate because of large trailers and motorhomes blocking views at intersections.

“There is no way in the world you can see what’s going on (at those intersections,” Friedman said. “There’s lots of common sense to (addressing) this, but it’s a very difficult issue.”

Friedman said he received many emails about the parking ordinances and most people told him to leave things the way they are.

“We have to figure out a way to handle this,” Friedman said. “We are a different community, we have to recognize that. A few blocks from where you live, we have a major river.”

But Friedman said he is even more worried about uncontrolled intersections, where there is no signage at four-way intersections.

 

Next steps

Commissioner Sarah Sandberg said she thinks one of the most important steps the city can take is to enforce the current rules.

“I think the issue is we just want more enforcement on the current rule,” Sandberg said.

In order to properly enforce all of the city’s codes, more help — including more employees — is needed, Kardoes told the commission.

“To really enforce the current code is going to take summertime part-time employees. I don’t know what that would cost estimate,” Kardoes said.

The commission discussed raising parking fees, both as an incentive to make people follow the law and help pay for additional enforcement, especially during the summer months, when the issue is more pronounced.

“If fees went up, it would help pay for additional enforcement,” Sandberg said.

While the commission discussed potential changes to ordinances, the commission did not take any action on Tuesday night, instead opting to continue receiving updates from Kardoes on the status of enforcement.

“We haven’t given our officer a chance to start working on the real chronic problems, to get to know who the chronic people are,” City Commissioner Quentin Schwartz said. “There’s grass growing in the gutter, some people aren’t moving their vehicles for anything.”

Overall, Hoglund said the enforcement position has been successful so far.

“I feel as a commissioner we’ve been talking about a code enforcement officer forever, we wished for it, wanted it, and I’m thankful for Michael and the commission for funding an ordinance officer and looking to improve the officer’s duties,” Hoglund said.

And Sandberg said, with so many rules on the books, no wonder enforcement is so difficult.

“This makes me wonder why we have so many ordinances in the first place if we can’t enforce them,” Sandberg said.

 

Residents air thoughts on ordinances

By Johnathan Hettinger
Enterprise Staff Writer
 

Parking trailers on the street is a contentious issue in Livingston.

During interviews with The Enterprise and during public testimony at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, several residents shared their viewpoint.

Currently, the city ordinance limits parking trailers on the street for five days. Officers enforce the rule by marking tires, and if the vehicle doesn’t move, issuing a ticket. The commission debated whether that rule was fair Tuesday, ultimately deciding not to take any action.

Working for the railroad, Gary Boone must often spend weeks or months at a time living out of a camper, so when he finally gets to spend some time in Livingston, sometimes his trailer won’t move for five days, which is the current limit on how long a trailer can be in one spot.

“When I’m lucky enough to be at home, it may not move for five days. I try to be a good neighbor and move it, and I think the five-day rule is very fair,” Boone said.

Driving down the streets of Livingston, Dixie Bullock, an elderly driver, can’t see many intersections because of trailers and campers parked near the corners.

“I have almost been hit and had my side smashed because I can’t see. There is no way of seeing unless I pull out (into the intersection),” Bullock said. “And I’m in a very small vehicle.”

Storing trailers and motorhomes on the street doesn’t make any sense to Don Platek, who lives on South Yellowstone Street.

Among the problems he outlined: There are dozens of vehicles on the blocks surrounding his home, and they hardly ever move. When it’s time for the streets to be swept, the trailers don’t move and little is cleaned. When a trailer’s wheel has been marked, all a trailer’s owner has to do is move the vehicle 6 inches and they won’t be ticketed. Some of the motorhomes stay plugged in to a garage or home, others run their generators all night.

“I can’t make this stuff up,” Platek said.

Despite downtown being a two-hour parking zone, Krystal Cipriani, the owner of Livingston Home Outfitters, often sees residents of downtown buildings park on Main Street and leave their car on the street for days on end. Cipriani would also see employees of other businesses park right outside their door, limiting the parking available for customers.

The city has not yet started to enforce the two-hour limit since the downtown construction project ended, but Cipriani hopes it does so customers can find a place to park.

For many downtown employees and residents, there are very limited long-term parking solutions. Even the B Street Lot, which is for employees and does not allow overnight parking, often fills up early in the morning.

Eric Lane, a former fishing guide, couldn’t place a value on the ability to save time each day by parking his boat outside of his home.

If not, he would have had to clean all of his equipment out each day, drive to an outfitter, unload it, drive home and then go pick it up in the morning and do it all again, Lane said.

“Many of us moved here because of the fishing part of our town,” he said.