Noe Valley Voice December-January 2003

Old Van Is Legal, But Keeps Getting Tagged

By Suzanne Herel

Someone doesn't like the looks of Noe Valley resident Maxine Karell's old van.

For the past eight months, that someone--presumably a disgruntled neighbor--repeatedly has called the Department of Parking and Traffic and reported the 1971 Chevy van abandoned.

It doesn't matter that Karell moves the van at least one block or 1/10 of a mile every 72 hours, in accordance with the city vehicle code. Nor does it help that she plasters her windows with notes to DPT, explaining the situation.

Her tires still get chalked, and a warning sticker is slapped on the driver side of the windshield two to three times a month.

"I have to go out there with a razor, it's done so often," she says.

That annoyance would be troubling enough for Karell, who is recovering from two major knee surgeries and must enlist her husband and daughter to move the van.

But then over Halloween weekend, when the van was parked in the 1000 block of Church Street, someone smashed the van's passenger-side window and punctured three of the tires.

Karell, who has owned a home on 22nd Street since 1975, doesn't think the vandalism was a coincidence, especially because the calls to the abandoned vehicle hotline seem to heat up when she parks the van on Church.

At her wits' end, Karell is offering a monetary reward for the positive identification of the person or persons targeting her vehicle. She declined to specify the amount of the award.

"I need the neighborhood to look out and help me," she says. "This is a story about how people can lose their rights and become victims of the system."

She also is looking for support in her effort to change the city's hotline system in such a way as to require the identity of callers (for city use only).

"The thing that would correct this is if he had to leave his name and number," Karell says.

A spokeswoman for the DPT who requested that her name not be used confirms that callers are not asked to identify themselves when they report a vehicle abandoned.

The department has no choice, she says, but to send out an officer for each call--even if it appears to have stemmed from a dispute with a neighbor.

"We have to go out and mark it," she says. "But as long as the vehicle is being moved, we won't tow it. We just disregard."

An officer determines whether the vehicle is being moved by looking inside at the odometer, she adds.

Karell says she's not the only resident with an old car who has faced this problem. When her neighbors inherited an old gray Pontiac, they too battled an anonymous caller to the abandoned vehicle hotline, for about a year. They finally just sold the car.

Karell says the Pontiac owner knocked on her door when he began seeing the stickers on her van and said, "I can't believe the same thing's happening to you."

Another neighbor, who owns a 1991 Ford pickup, also recently had her vehicle reported as abandoned while parked in the same area. In addition, someone has let the air out of her tires several times, smashed a window, and cut the brake line.

For her part, Karell refuses to get rid of her van. "I'm not going to get chased out of Dodge," she says.

Meanwhile, Police Officer Lorraine Lombardo, who covers the Noe Valley turf for Mission Station, is asking local residents to keep their eyes open for the person or persons harassing Karell.

"Some of these people [like Karell] have been in the neighborhood a long time," Lombardo says, and it makes sense that they would have older vehicles. "We don't need this kind of harassment."

Karell asks that anyone in the area of 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church streets who is encountering similar trouble, or who has information on the person who is reporting her vehicle abandoned, call her at 824-3769. Her van's license plate is 606MHA.

Anyone with information on the vandalism incident should call Mission Station at 558-5400.