San Diego Dale Raver, 53, a Poway resident and the owner of a cell-phone-accessory business, is waging a quixotic crusade against the City of Escondido, which he believes is breaking the law. He's spent over 30 hours waging this war, which started with a $30 parking ticket the morning of October 18, 2000. "A buddy of mine called," Raver recalls, "and we decided to go out and have breakfast. We decided to meet in Escondido in the Target shopping center on Auto Park Way -- big parking lot, easy to find each other. I got there a little early, parked, and pretty soon he pulled up alongside me in the opposite direction. We were deciding where to go when this civilian volunteer patrol vehicle passed by the front of my car, circled around, and parked behind me."
Jo Ashley, one of the two uniformed volunteers in the patrol vehicle, began to speak to Raver's friend, Michael Gooch, "saying something to the effect that both of our vehicles don't have front license plates, and that's illegal, and we could get citations for that. My friend says, 'Well, we're on private property so I don't think we can.' She says, 'Yes you can.' He says, 'Show me the law.' She says something like, 'You've got a real bad attitude.' He says, 'So what? Is that against the law? What are you going to do, write me a ticket?' Those were his exact words. So she says, 'Yeah,' and she gets out of the car with her little ticket book and starts writing out a ticket. And she tells him if he hadn't argued with her she wouldn't have given him a ticket. Well, my friend was getting pretty upset about this, and he tells her, 'I want you to call a supervisor.' So we went away and spend a few minutes at a fast-food place, come back, and there's an Escondido motorcycle officer parked there. So we said to him, 'Our vehicles are parked here, this is private property. How can we be in violation of a license-plate law on private property? What law are we violating?' He said, 'I don't know exactly.' So we said, 'Why don't you call a supervisor?'"
When the supervisor, Sergeant Mark Wrisley of the Escondido Police Department, arrived, Raver and Gooch put the same questions to him. Wrisley cited two California Vehicle Code sections, 4000(a) and 5204(d). Raver made a note of the two sections and, upset at the treatment he and his friend had received from Ashley, requested a complaint form. Wrisley said it had to be done at a police station. "So we drive down to the police station. The gal at the front counter says, 'I can't give you a complaint form; a supervisor has to give it to you.' I said, 'Fine, where's the supervisor? Do you have one here?' She says, 'No, I have to call one in from the field.' So she gets on the radio and five minutes later, the same sergeant that we'd met in the parking lot walks in.
Sergeant Wrisley gave Raver a form for complaints against police officers. "We asked if they had any for civilians," Raver recalls. "He said, 'No.' I said, 'This isn't really appropriate.' He said, 'Well, it's all we've got.' "
Back in his home office, Raver inspected the complaint form. Phone numbers for all of the possible avenues of complaint --the Escondido police, mayor's office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the court system -- were out of date. "They had 619 area codes," Raver says.
So he began to write on his own paper. But first, he went online and looked up the California Vehicle Code sections that Sergeant Wrisley had cited to him as justification for the no-front-license-plate ticket. "They don't address the number of license plates," Raver explains, "or the presence of a front license plate, but only that a plate with tag be affixed to the vehicle, even in off-street parking lots. Well, I had tags on the car."
Emboldened by this discovery, Raver started researching a hunch he had that the civilian volunteer patrol person didn't have the authority to write the ticket in the first place. His hunch, he says, proved correct. "There is a section in the vehicle code, 22507.9, which allows civilian volunteers to write handicapped parking tickets only. It specifies sole purpose. That phrase appears in the code, sole purpose. They say, 'This section gives the local authority...to establish sole purpose in issuing citations."
Raver put together a six-page complaint, including pertinent vehicle-code sections he had downloaded, and hand-delivered copies to the Escondido Police Department, the city manager's office, and the mayor's office on October 19. The complaint questioned the legality of volunteers issuing tickets, complained that Ashley was rude and gave the ticket to punish Gooch's "attitude," and said that the Vehicle Code section cited to him didn't correspond to the ticket. He also pointed out that the police complaint form was out of date.
On November 3, Raver received a response from James Stuard, traffic sergeant for the Escondido Police Department, which opened, "The Parking Violation has been determined to be valid." The response went on to cite California Vehicle Code, Section 4850, which states, "The department, upon registering a vehicle, shall issue the owner two...license plates," and Section 5200, which states, "When two license plates are issued by the department for a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear. When one license plate is issued for use upon a vehicle, it shall be attached to the rear thereof."
Stuard noted Raver's citing of Vehicle Code Section 22507.9, which "grants a local authority the ability to establish a special enforcement unit for the sole purpose of issuing citations of section 22507.8." But he went on to claim that the section "does not restrict a local authority from forming any other type of volunteer program, or restrict the enforcement activities undertaken by the member of that program."