This is a particularly bad time for someone to wind up having a car booted for illegal parking.
A lot of people are still laid off from their jobs. Rent and mortgage payments are still eating up unemployment checks. Bills are still piling up.
So I was taken aback the other day to see so many cars with boots on them on the streets between 67th Street and South Shore Drive and Clyde Avenue. It looked like the city’s finance department was playing catchup.
In March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot temporarily suspended debt collections including booting and impounding cars.
“This is a common-sense way that we can help mitigate the burdens and pressures many are feeling,” Lightfoot said then. “We know that these practices disproportionately impact the residents that are most in need during this crisis,.”
This past week, you could see that “disproportionate” impact up and down 67th Street and the surrounding blocks.
The collection and enforcement activities, including booting, resumed July 1, with drivers given a grace period through July 15 to purchase residential parking permits and city stickers and to renew license plates before enforcement ramped up July 16.
But the coronavirus storm’s not over yet.
Perhaps it is a good time for Lightfoot’s administration to consider creating a fairer parking enforcement policy, period.
Under the current policy, “Vehicles are eligible for a boot if a registered owner accrues three or more unpaid parking, red-light and/or automated speed enforcement tickets that reach final determination status or accrues two unpaid parking, red-light and/or automated speed enforcement tickets in final-determination status older than one year.”
That’s a pretty tough policy.
The mayor’s office says people were given fair warning: “In early July, the city’s boot team canvassed the city and placed warning notices on vehicles that were boot-eligible, encouraging motorists to get on a payment plan.”
Still, because of COVID-19, a lot more people are likely to get caught up in a cash bind and end up with the boot.
Meanwhile, not too far from 67th Street, where the yellow boots are plentiful, several vehicles at 75th Street and the lakefront could be seen without Illinois plates or city stickers that have been parked there illegally for weeks.
The city Department of Streets and Sanitation resumed normal towing operations on July 13.
So I did my part. I called my alderman.
An employee at Seventh Ward Ald. Gregory Mitchell’s (no relation) office reported the suspicious cars to Streets and San, and a traffic aid came out and plastered multiple tickets on the cars’ windshields.
That seemed a futile effort since some of the tag-less cars also had cracked windows, flat tires and missing bumpers. It’s pretty clear no one’s coming back for these beaters.
The alderman’s office told me it takes at least seven days after abandoned cars are ticketed before they can be towed.
Besides taking up legal parking spots in an area where parking is a problem, the presence of so many dilapidated cars in one block tells people with bad intentions: This is a place where they could get away with whatever.
Obviously, the city’s compassionate approach to debt collection was a huge blessing.
But it also meant that the city’s budget took a big hit, and that revenue has to come from somewhere.
Because of the ongoing civil unrest over policing issues, including calls for de-funding the police department, how the city spends its resources is under a microscope.
Right now, it is looking like booting cars are taking precedence over towing junk cars that get dumped in neighborhoods like mine.
That perception could end up overshadowing the good that the mayor intended.
After all, the last thing people want to see right about now is the boot man.