Longform

The Parking Posse

Jeff Conn is an urban hunter.
Each weekday morning at 7:15, Conn bounces down the seven steps from his home in Alamo Placita Park and starts walking to his job in downtown Denver. The walk--the hunt--will take precisely 25 minutes.

"I bet we don't see anything today" Conn says. "Wouldn't that be funny?"
A computer contractor, Conn is dressed in a white short-sleeved shirt that tucks into his blue jeans, which are held up by a brown leather belt. The head of one silver pen pokes out of his shirt pocket, and a digital watch with a bubbly black band wraps around his wrist. Conn keeps a good pace, striding quickly in his blue Nike running shoes. He parts his sandy blond hair in the middle and keeps a nicely trimmed mustache. He wears Terminator-style wraparound sunglasses.

His weapon: a Motorola cell phone the size of a credit card.
"There's one right there," Conn says. Up ahead, three-quarters of a block away, the back wheels of a gray, four-door Chevy Lumina are sticking out obnoxiously into a "No Parking" zone.

Out comes the cell phone.
With the thumb of his right hand, Conn dials the city's parking-management office from memory, never breaking stride as he turns the corner toward downtown.

"Yeah. Got a car parked illegally on the southwest corner of Fifth and Pennsylvania. Thanks. Bye."

Jeff Conn didn't become a parking vigilante overnight. And he didn't do it solely for himself.

Five years ago, when Conn lived near Second and Grant avenues, the Denver Art Students League moved in nearby. Students looking to avoid parking fees found plenty of free spots in the neighborhood--many in front of Conn's home. Conn

rallied his fellow residents to file a petition with the city that restricted parking to residents only.

"The signs went in right away," Conn recalls, "but the enforcement took forever."

After the threat of the signs wore off, the students returned to the free, unfettered parking. Conn called the city's parking-management office each day. Two, three, four times a day.

"This whole thing started because they wouldn't enforce," Conn says. "If they would enforce, then they won't have a parking problem. If I get a ticket for parking on the wrong side of the street on a cleaning day, I remember. So do others."

Several neighborhoods now face the same plight as Conn's once did, thanks in part to Denver's population boom. Near University Hospital, where 7,000 employees search for parking spots each weekday morning, vigilante residents have forced the city to install restrictions within a one-mile radius of Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Around the Bluebird Theater on East Colfax Avenue, residents complain to city and parking officials that rowdy clubgoers suck up curb space. All throughout Capitol Hill, constituents are impatiently waiting for the city to implement a plan to create more parking spaces within the district. And in the Old South Gaylord neighborhood, east of Washington Park, homeowners and merchants are resorting to city-sponsored mediation over what to do about the crowded streets.

On April 1, the city's parking-management office made its first change in enforcement strategy since "forever," says assistant parking director Tom Reilly.

But Conn calls parking management an "inefficient mess" and says continual nagging is the surest way a citizen can reclaim his curb.

"I don't get a kick out of doing this," Conn says as he flips his cell phone shut and continues to scan sidewalks and crosswalks. "But you gotta do what you gotta do. I like to keep them on their toes."

Last April, Highlands Ranch resident Dana Garner was cited for harassment after she spat twice on a neighbor who parked in front of her home. The 42-year-old woman told police she reacted in self-defense after her neighbor refused to move her car and began screaming wildly.

It's a good indication of the level of parking frustration in some Denver neighborhoods.

"Ten years ago we dealt mostly with complaints about tickets and the fairness of them," Reilly says. "'Why did you ticket my car? I

wasn't in the wrong; why did I get the ticket?' Now we've seen a shift from people complaining about tickets to actually requesting us to come and enforce."

Reilly now keeps a list of fourteen neighborhoods--an unprecedented number--where residents are still waiting to meet with parking officials, hoping they can find relief.

Last year the city's parking-management office took in a record $19 million from ticketing, booting, towing and private lots. But the loot didn't come from the neighborhoods where residents are damn near begging for enforcement: For every one ticket issued in residential areas, four were slapped on windshields downtown.

Some residents complain they have been waiting too long for too little.
Brad Cameron, chair of the parking committee for the Capitol Hill United Neighbors association, says residents were hopeful when the city council voted unanimously last spring to adopt the Central Denver Transportation Plan, an attempt to implement "traffic-calming" measures throughout Denver's mid-section over the course of several years. CHUN endorsed the project, which would also create more parking spaces on one-way streets during off-peak hours.

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Justin Berton