Court scare: 'average joes' dissed for deputies

The lines were drawn at Court Square– from parallel to perpendicular– in front of the Albemarle Circuit Court on East Jefferson Street last week, inciting a protester to park illegally in a "police only" space with a sign in his windshield reading, "An Act of Civil Disobedience at Mr. Jefferson's Courthouse," according to a posting on

Thus for the second time in a month, Charlottesville traffic engineering decisions drew heat down on local law enforcement heads.

When the Park Street bridge closed in August and traffic was diverted onto Calhoun Street, residents were irked about the closing of Watson Avenue, where Police Chief Tim Longo lives. City traffic engineer Dave Beardsley says Longo had nothing to do with the decision to close his street.

Likewise, the array of mostly empty "police only" parking spaces in front of the courthouse has some critics blaming Albemarle Sheriff Ed Robb.

"We have no jurisdiction over those spaces," says Robb. "They're controlled by the city. I came in one morning, and they were there. The fact of the matter is, I had nothing to do with it. No one asked me."

Robb says his deputies, who provide courthouse security and pick up prisoners, actually have one fewer space than before– and that the public has more use of those spots because they're available after 6pm and on weekends. "I'd like to see citizens all have parking," he adds.

The head-in parking spaces are the result of the $3.4 million Court Square renovation that began August 6. The new spaces are a temporary relocation of spots on Park Street, according to Beardsley, and once construction finishes, parking will go back to parallel.

The 30 slots in front of the courthouse allocate 13 two-hour spaces for the public, 13 for police, and three for judges. One is a handicapped parking space. An agreement between the city and Albemarle County calls for 20 police parking spaces, says Beardsley, who characterizes the new configuration as a "net gain" for the public because the police spaces are available after 6pm and on weekends.

"It's stupid as hell," says realtor Sam Wells. He looks out the window of his East Jefferson Street office to report, "Right now, there are three police cars there. The rest of the spaces are empty while people are driving around looking for parking."

Securities trader Tom Hill also overlooks the courthouse– and takes a dim view of the parking situation. "In my mind, it's discouraging that the average Joe who needs to use the courthouse whom I see driving around looking for parking gets short shrift.

"I think it's a poor example of leadership," he continues.

Hill draws this analogy: "The employees at Wal-Mart and Foods of All Nations– do they take the best parking spaces, or do the customers?"

He questions why the sheriff's department and judges should have the best spots– especially when there's "ample" off-street parking behind the Circuit Court, next to the juvenile court on High Street, and in the Market Street parking garage. "It raises the question to me of who is being served."

"We got a number of complaints from local business owners when the striping began," Beardsley acknowledges. "In response, we revised some of the striping and signage, and relocated some of the public parking on each end. We're trying to be accommodating to the public."

Says Hill, "To me, it's symbolic of the imperious nature of government."