By Sandra De Anda, OC Immigrant Youth United
Once free to residents, visitors and students, parking in downtown Fullerton will come at a price starting on June 6. That’s when folks will have to pay five bucks to park in garages and lots around the area Thursday through Saturday between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. The city’s rolling out the pilot program ostensibly as a money maker that allows them six months to gather new data in order to solve chronic parking problems.
Only, one form of surveillance in the parking revamp–a new license plate reader program–is becoming a cause for concern among undocumented immigrants and advocates.
According to a Voice of OC article, “kiosks will be used throughout the parking garages and lots and people will enter their license plate numbers in the system, while two portable license plate readers will be used by parking enforcement to track how long cars have been in certain stalls.” City Manager Ken Domer also told the news website that the license plate information won’t be linked to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) nor will it be sold to third parties. The Fullerton Police Department has its own license plate reader technology separate from the one to be introduced in downtown but will be managing the parking program’s data.
That does little to assuage concerns, especially for immigrant rights advocates.
“Despite statements from the city manager, there are still concerns because the data is nonetheless being collected,” says Ana Ramirez, a 14-year Fullerton resident and OC rapid response coordinator with Resilience OC. “And we once again find ourselves confronting the issue of transparency. We have to be hypercritical of who the city is contracting for the program.”
Fullerton may have reneged on efforts to join last year’s anti-sanctuary state revolt, but it’s still far from being a sanctuary city itself. And California’s “Sanctuary State” law is being thwarted one way or another by dozens of law enforcement agencies up and down the state.
According to Data USA, about 15 percent of Fullerton’s residents are non-citizens with an unknown undocumented population within that. Undocumented students also attend Cal State Fullerton and Fullerton College. The city would be collecting license plate data with no real assurances against any potential sharing of such information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The fear is far from irrational given that OC law enforcement agencies have been noted to provide ICE access to their license plate databases.
But that’s not all.
Domer also stated to Voice of OC that up to 85 percent of downtown parking during peak hours is taken up by those working in the area dominated by bars and restaurants. Workers should be able to have access to free and accessible parking.
“By choosing to use license plate readers in the downtown parking areas, the city is taking a step in the wrong direction given that this impacts some of the most vulnerable populations–the undocumented community, as well as working-class folks,” says Ramirez. “The surveillance of our communities is taking place right before our eyes, and city officials are facilitating that process.”