Off-Campus Ticketing Goes Too Far, Some Say

American University graduate student Shane Mayer, 23, says a school police officer ticketed him off-campus even though he has a D.C. parking permit.
American University graduate student Shane Mayer, 23, says a school police officer ticketed him off-campus even though he has a D.C. parking permit. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Sue Anne Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lisa Madison, a Northwest Washington resident, was surprised twice recently to find parking tickets on her car windshield, issued by American University's public safety officers. She was parked legally each time, she said, at least five or six blocks from campus. And she has no affiliation with the university.

When Madison called to inquire about the $75 tickets -- which double to $150 if not paid in 15 days -- she got another shock, she said.

"I said, 'I don't even go to AU, and I have a [residential] parking permit,' " said Madison, 23, an administrative assistant at the American Institute of Architects. "And they said, 'Well, we can't take the ticket away until you prove you don't go to AU.' They wanted a copy of my lease from my apartment. . . . I said, 'It's not my responsibility to prove I don't go to AU.' "

University officials say their parking policy is part of an effort, mandated by the D.C. government, to ensure that students, faculty and staff, and anyone else doing business with the university, park on campus and not on the surrounding residential streets. The policy has been in effect since 2001, AU Chief of Staff David Taylor said, after university officials met with the D.C. Zoning Commission to file a 10-year plan dealing with issues that affect surrounding neighborhoods, such as campus building projects, campus lighting, buffer zones -- and parking.

American draws thousands of people each day to its campus at 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, and the issue of parking on nearby residential streets is a continuing controversy. Last year, AU officers wrote 1,051 tickets for off-campus parking violations, Taylor said, with the revenue going to the university's general budget.

"What you've got is when you have a university entity, the local surrounding communities ask that . . . people don't park in front of their houses and have the public streets as an extension of the campus parking lot," Taylor said.

The authority for AU officers to ticket cars off campus comes from an order by the Zoning Commission that requires the university to set up "a system of administrative actions, contract penalties and fines . . . for violations," Taylor said, reading from the order. The university only boots vehicles on campus, he said.

"It is not a D.C. police issue," he said. "It is a university program applicable only to those who are part of the university community."

Neighbors and others who receive tickets by mistake need only call a phone number listed on the tickets to have them voided, Taylor said.

At Georgetown University, which also is in a residential area, public safety officers do not monitor parking off campus, spokesman Erik Smulson said.

Complaints about the AU ticketing policy are nothing new, Taylor said. But last week, student government President Kyle Taylor (no relation) wrote the administration asking for a clarification, saying it "impedes on the rights of AU community members by essentially privatizing public space."

"They haven't put up signs saying, 'This is Zone 3 parking, except for people going to AU,' " he said in an interview last week.

Shane Mayer, a 23-year-old graduate student at American, received a couple of university parking tickets last month after parking a few blocks from campus. The problem is, Mayer was legally parked near his home, he said, displaying the proper Zone 3 sticker enabling him to park in the neighborhood.

Mayer said he felt "uncomfortable" when the university officer writing him a ticket at 45th and Newark streets said she knew he was an AU student because she had followed him as he walked onto campus. "Which, essentially, is stalking," Mayer said.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous on so many levels," he said. The university, Mayer added, has "no written document they will show me on how they enforce this. Their policy seems to be following students from cars -- we'll give tickets to people who get out and put a backpack on."

Mayer plans to fight the tickets. But Madison, after her initial phone call to the university, has chosen to ignore the tickets she got for parking near 42nd Street and the Tenleytown-AU Metro station.

"It's kind of asinine," she said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company