Chalking Tires Will Continue in Local Villages

A chalked tire. Christine Sampson photo

A federal appeals court ruling caught the attention of local folks this week as it appeared the chalking of car tires as a means of enforcing parking rules was ruled a violation of the United States Constitution.

Could it really be possible that a court case halfway across the country could have implications here this summer? The current answer is no, according to local officials.

The national news media reported widely on the case, which was initiated by a Michigan woman, Alison Taylor, who received 15 parking tickets over the span of a few years. The United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit heard the case on April 22 and concluded that chalking of tires was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Three days later, the 6th Circuit appeals court reversed its decision.

Attorney Brian Lester, who represents Sag Harbor Village on parking matters and is also East Hampton Village’s attorney, explained Wednesday that while the appeals court found that chalking tires is a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment, “it does not mean that chalking is a violation of the amendment.”

The reversal of the first decision means the marking of tires is not a violation, Mr. Lester said.

“Everything went haywire,” said Mr. Lester. “The amended decision makes a big difference.”

The case has been remanded back to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Bay City, a Florida State University law professor told Treasure Coast Newspapers this week. Squire Patton Boggs, an international law firm, wrote in an April 26 blog post that “the amended opinion thus tees up a debate over the ‘reasonableness’ of the search on remand. Long story short: Ms. Taylor has survived the motion-to-dismiss-stage, but she has not yet evaded the parking authorities.”

East Hampton Village chalks tires on Main Street and Newtown Lane, and Sag Harbor, of course, chalks almost everywhere there are white lines on the ground.

Chalking tires, of course, could be considered a pain to many residents and visitors in Sag Harbor and other places — as well as a boon to village coffers and local businesses. Sag Harbor counted on thousands of dollars in revenue from the 3,705 parking tickets written in 2018, including $204,655 between May and September, and businesses count on the turnover of parking spaces to allow the fresh flow of customer traffic.

“It’s really important,” Lisa Field, president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Sag Harbor Variety Store, said on Wednesday. “This morning was a perfect example. There was not one parking spot on Main Street because they had it coned off to paint the lines. Customers need to park in order to come into the stores.”

When he first heard about the Michigan court case, Sag Harbor Police Chief Austin J. McGuire did some research.

“Decisions issued by the 6th Circuit were reversed by the Supreme Court 24 out of 25 times in five annual terms starting in October 2008 through June of 2013,” Chief McGuire said, citing a Wikipedia web page. “It seems very silly to compare what I was getting to what I read in the Washington Post about tire chalking. I was not concerned, and we were going to continue to chalk no matter what — until the United States Supreme Court upheld it. And I was going to let that happen on someone else’s dime, not on the village’s.”

So it will be business as usual on the streets of Sag Harbor.

“That’s good because I just ordered a bunch of new chalk — a couple of hundred dollars of new chalk for the season,” Chief McGuire said.

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Sandra Schroeder said she had heard about the case and was briefly worried it would have an impact here.

“I was going to have a conversation with our police chief about it and see what the alternatives would be,” she said Wednesday. “To me, the chalk on the back of the tires is the most sensible.”

According to Ms. Schroeder, another parking discussion is on deck in Sag Harbor. At the next meeting of the Village Board of Trustees, she said, they will take up the matter of changing several two-hour spaces in the center of Main Street to half-hour spaces or some such similar time adjustment.

“We could do something like that to keep people moving a little faster,” Ms. Schroeder said. “I don’t need a two-hour parking spot to go to the bank. The Chamber [of Commerce] has requested it and it’s a darn good idea.”

Ms. Field said the chamber had been discussing that concept for about a year.

“That’s really what we need because there are some stores — the pharmacy, the grocery store, us — where you need to be able to pull in, pull out and get on your way,” she said. “I’ve been complaining for years that the two-hour parking on Main Street gets ignored. I’m always in favor of anything that’s going to keep the flow of customer turnover going.”

She was elated to hear the tire-chalking court ruling had been reversed.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” Ms. Field said. “I thought, ‘If that happens, what’s going to happen this summer?’”