In summer 2021, for the first time, both Sag Harbor and East Hampton villages made deals with online companies to electronically monitor parked cars and issue violations to those that stay in their spots too long. It involved license plate recognition software and overhead surveillance cameras. To a great extent, it replaced the summer cops who chalked tires and left tickets to be paid under the lawbreakers’ windshield wipers.
How did it work out? We had a conversation with Mayor Brian Figaro of Hampton Village to see if he planned to repeat the arrangement for this coming summer.
“We were very happy with it,” he told Dan’s Papers. “And the Village Board is currently discussing making some additions to it.”
One proposal on the table would allow longtime residents to reduce the amount of their parking fines, he said.
“We will give 10% off to people who continuously lived in the Hamptons for more than five years, 20% off for people who’ve lived here more than 10 years and 30% off for people who’ve lived here for a generation. Those who can trace their residency back to the early settlers would be totally exempt from parking fines. They can park wherever they want and for however long they want.”
Mayor Figaro said this is most likely to pass. If the proposal passes at April’s board meeting, citizens can arrange their discounts by coming to village hall with a lease showing a long-ago start date. If they own, they can bring the property’s title showing what they bought and when. As for the descendants of the original settlers, a report from ancestry.com will do.
Another proposal on the table involves charging different overtime parking fines depending on the car’s price.
“It’s only fair that those who own a Maserati pay more than those who own a Toyota Corolla,” he said. “Parking perpetrators’ surveillance camera pictures will show not only what the rear license plate is, but also the make and model of the car. These things are indicated on rear trunks right above the license plate.
“Councilman Richard Rogers, who opposes this plan, says it’s too complicated,” the mayor offered. “He says the clerks viewing the surveillance camera photos at village hall will be making decisions after consulting the Kelley Blue Books the village provides them. These books estimate the current value of every model car ever made, based not only on its retail, trade-in and private sale values, but also by year.”
He added, “But according to Rogers, this could lead to a landslide of complaints from motorists who say their car’s value should be less because they are in poor condition — the car, that is — or they have especially low mileage. Again, the car, that is. The clerks can’t see those things from a surveillance camera photograph.”
Another thing the council is working on, the mayor said, is affordable housing for the less fortunate.
“We’ve been entirely remiss in this area,” Figaro said. “The studies tell us the number of affordable housing units this village needs is 2,100. And yet the number built so far is 58. You can’t stuff more than 160 people into 58 units. With 2,100 units, you could stuff in 6,200 people. We want to make this right as soon as possible. And we think the units are already here.
“Ready for this? They are the garages and studios and other outbuildings on the back or front lawns on nearly all the properties in the village.
“We want to harness these buildings,” Figaro said. “Upgrade them. Put bathrooms and kitchens in. Did you know that for the past 30 years there’s been a law on the books making it illegal to have plumbing in accessory buildings used as art studios? The village was afraid that these art studios could be used as rental cottages.”
I told him I remembered it well. Dan’s Papers reported on it when it happened. This law resulted in less artwork being produced. It was shameful.
“For a time, the village had inspectors knocking on doors,” Figaro continued. “If a bathroom existed they’d have it removed. Even hot plates and portable refrigerators were removed. If artists needed to go, they’d have to run to the house. Artists also had to prove they were continuously working. They had to show inspectors evidence of recent exhibitions and sales. Well, that might have been an important law a generation ago when real estate prices were low. But now it’s the other way around.
“At the April meeting, we will discuss repealing this law and replacing it with one requiring that all existing garages and studios be upgraded and rented to people who have modest incomes. We call it the ‘Slash-a-Zero Law.’ Garages and studios will be appraised. And the rental price permitted for affordable housing use will be the appraised value minus a zero. For example, a garage appraised for $20,000 a month would rent to a qualified family for $2,000 a month.
“Because Slash-a-Zero was announced publicly on our agenda,” the mayor continued, “we’ve already gotten a lot of comment about the issue. People are outraged that they might have to rent to just anybody. So, we’re adding an amendment to the new proposal stating there will be a one-day mandatory meet-and-greet between the homeowners and the qualified renters, so people can arrange for a proper fit. We will hold it in the high school gym. Nobody wants a convicted axe murder and his family on their property. A man’s home is his castle, after all.
“But we’ve also been threatened with legal action if the amendment passes. The meet-and-greet sounds like a violation of the current anti discrimination laws. Selective renting can discriminate by race, color, creed, religion, sex or some other stuff.”
“So it’s going to be a fight between the ‘Man’s Home Is His Castle’ people and the ‘Real Estate Discriminator’ people,” I said.
“Yes. But the bottom line is we need 2,100 affordable housing units for housekeepers, pool boys, car parkers, restaurant waitresses and handymen, so they can sleep together with their loved ones without having to commute 50 miles twice a day. And we need them now! Everybody knows that.”
“On another matter,” I asked, “are you discussing what can and cannot land at the East Hampton Airport?”
“We’re just throwing up our hands,” the mayor said.