San Francisco couple gets parking ticket after city paints a red zone around their car

When Jeff Jolly saw the parking ticket on his car, he thought it must be some kind of joke.

He’d been fined $108 US ($138 Cdn) for parking in a red zone, a no-parking space marked by a line of red paint on the curb. But when his wife Desiree originally parked their car at their usual spot, there was no red paint there.

In fact, it was clear to the couple that the city had painted the line while their car was parked, as the paint actually cuts around one of their tires.

“It was just odd. You know, we thought it was a prank or something,” Jeff Jolly told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. “I said…this can’t be right.”

But sure enough, the ticket is the real deal. The city, however, argues the spot has always been a red zone, and the paint job was, in fact, a re-paint job.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority said in an email to CBC that the city recently repainted the curb in response to a service request.

A photo, provided by the city, shows the curb before the touch-up, which appears to show some very faded red paint.

A car parked next to a mostly gray curb with some small flecks of visible, but faded, red paint.
This undated image, provided by the city, of the curb before it was repainted shows signs of faded red paint. (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority)

Jolly insists he and his wife have been using that same spot for 25 years and have never noticed any red paint or any signs indicating a red zone. As working musicians, he says they have learned to always pay close attention to parking rules.

“In this city, you know to look where you park,” he said. “There’s no way you would possibly miss that.”

ABC7 News, which first reported this story, compared to the city’s photo to Google Image pictures of the street corner in 2011 and 2016, both of which show a curb that appears completely gray, suggesting the red paint job had long faded.

A black and white photo of a man and a woman sitting side by side on bar stools.  The man is playing guitar and the woman is sitting in front of a microphone.
Jeff and Desiree Jolly are San Francisco musicians, and they say they have learned from doing gigs at various venues to pay close attention to street parking signage. (Submitted by Jeff Jolly)

The Jollys have officially contested the fine, and the city says their protest is pending an official review.

“For this particular case, as the curb was already a red zone but faded, citations clerk the state of the review would evaluate the previous red zone paint,” spokesperson Erica Kato said in an email. “If it was significantly faded and unenforceable then it would not be considered a factor in the review.”

Kato says the city will respond to the couple’s complaint within 60 days.

“We’ll probably have to pay the ticket and see if we get reimbursed. But we’re not even going to do that. We’re just going to see what happens because it’s just so ridiculous,” Jolly said.

“I really didn’t think it was going to go this far. You know, I really thought they were just going to say … we made a mistake and just reverse the ticket because it’s obvious just by the picture.”

Jolly says he and his wife have been considering leaving the Bay Area for a myriad of reasons, including crime and the rising cost of living. They’re thinking of moving to southern France where they often travel to play music. This ticket debacle just might be the last straw, he said.

Asked if he he think they paint their streets any better in France, he chuckled and replied: “I doubt it.”

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Alloysius Wong.