Volunteers enforceWheelchair-bound Larry Ebel watched as police Sgt. Bart Canada gave out citations and warnings at the Ward Avenue Sports Authority for handicapped-parking violations.
But the training effortBy Leila Fujimori
may end as funding dies
in the Legislature
He listened as one man gave his excuse for using a forged disabled-parking placard he created at Kinko's.
"My placard was stolen, so that's why I made a copy of it," one man told Canada.
Ebel was among 14 people being trained Saturday as disabled-parking enforcement volunteers. The volunteers, not all of whom are disabled, will be commissioned by the Honolulu Police Department to enforce handicapped-parking rules.
But Ebel's class may be among the last group of volunteers trained for such duty. A Senate bill to keep the program funded died in the House Finance Committee this session.
"It's a struggle to keep the program running," Canada said. "We're trying to find alternatives to funding."
Most volunteers are reimbursed for mileage, Canada said, but money also is needed to pay for identification, uniforms, equipment, audio-visual materials for classes, training and to reimburse the counties. Funds from fines go into the state general fund, rather than to the counties to support the programs, Canada said.
Enforcement of disabled parking is part of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. By losing Senate Bill 836, Canada said, all counties' enforcement efforts are affected.
Since the program began in 1996, 60 volunteers have been trained. The program will be losing some volunteers due to health reasons, and replacements are needed to keep up with complaints.
"We average about five to six calls a day of people abusing stalls or using someone else's placards," Canada said. About 40,000 to 60,000 placards have been issued by the city, and more than 3,000 citations were issued last year. Fines range from $155 to $300.
Sol Rattner, who is disabled on his entire right side, said when he sees people illegally parking in handicap stalls, "It bothers me."
"We've been dealing with this problem since 1987," said Lila Rattner, who trained with her husband. "We couldn't get parking." Although the couple has lived in Hawaii for only a year and a half, she said the problem was rampant in their former home of New Jersey.
Volunteers completed the last of three training sessions Saturday and will be commissioned as specialized officers once they pass a one-month probationary period where they must show a proficiency in dealing with people. Volunteers are asked to devote a minimum of two hours a week.
Ebel, who was left a paraplegic after a 1991 motorcycle accident, is not vindictively out to catch violators.
"I thought it was something I could do that would be helpful," Ebel said. "I'm more inclined to give people warnings and try to explain to people why they should follow the rules."
He hopes to reason with people using lines such as, "What if it's your grandmother who needs to use it?"
There is just one problem.
"If there's a real tall vehicle, how am I going to reach up and put the citation on the windshield?" asked the wheelchair-bound Makaha man. Ebel, an accountant, will drive his old Chevy Nova when looking for violators, and plans to have his father assist with the ticketing.
Canada said, "We're extremely thankful for the efforts of these volunteers for giving their time and energies for a very worthy cause."
Though police are not soliciting additional volunteers, Canada said he will take misuse or abuse reports at 529-3509.