Published June 5, 1998 in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Copyright 1998 Tribune-Review--Displayed with permission

West View resident takes parking fight to Internet

Joel Ballon stands in front of his empty West View business. (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review photo)

By Julie Hannon
TRIBUNE-REVIEW

West View finally has a Web page, but it's not the perfect public relations tool borough officials might have hoped for.

Instead, it's the elaborate showcase of disgruntled resident Joel Ballon.

The site, titled "My official West View, Pa., Home Page" was crafted a few weeks ago by the 59-year-old resident and, as of Wednesday, had tallied 736 hits.

On it, Ballon flamboyantly illustrates his fight to park in front of his own home - which rests near the heart of the borough's business district at 479 Perry Highway. Ballon owns the two-story building and lives on the second floor, above what used to be Angel Studio, which Ballon also owned and operated for more than 20 years.

In a page lined with bright yellow banners that read "police line: do not cross," a force of police cars with whirling lights and a caricature of a cop tightly gripping an overpowering magnifying glass, Ballon aims his anger at West View police Chief Chuck Holtgraver and even demands his badge.

"He obviously thinks he's above the law and if he acts this way in a civil matter, do we want him dealing with real criminals?" Ballon said.

The battle dates back about six months, when Ballon received a $10 ticket for parking on the cemented area abutting the front of his building, something Ballon said he has done for 28 years. He was cited for obstructing the sidewalk although Ballon eagerly pointed to some 30 inches of bricked sidewalk left for pedestrians to use after he occupied what he calls "his parking space."

Since then, Ballon has piled up another five citations, all for the same offense. Holtzgraver said he waived the first two as they tried peacefully to work out an understanding.

"We just didn't go up there and pick on him, as he suggests. We had a complaint from someone who was having a hard time seeing past his car as they pulled from the municipal lot, so they tagged him," said Holtgraver, noting that Ballon's home sits next to the borough's fire department and across from West View Elementary School.

"When he first came to me, I thought, geez, we'll waive them and work something out. But he doesn't want to listen to reason," the chief said. "I don't make the rules of the borough, I only enforce them. I've been here 27 years, and it's never been a parking space, but I thought hey, I don't know everything, so I asked the president of council and I asked the mayor. They all agreed, so my hands are tied."

Holtgraver insists that regardless of the size of the property in front of the building, it's all sidewalk because there are no curb cuts, and it's zoned as a sidewalk.

Ballon's anger escalated last month when he thought he had toppled the chief's decision by getting two of the unpaid tickets dismissed by District Justice Mark B. Devlin of West View.

But two hours after the dismissal, Ballon received another ticket. It specifically stated the car had been parked illegally for over an hour. That's when he turned to the Internet.

In response, Ballon posted a copy of the actual ticket on his Web site, followed by a picture of a purple toilet topped with the question, "What next chief, are you going to ticket me if I sit here for some arbitrary length of time?"

He has advertised the site in local newsgroups and with bright neon signs in the windows of his now-vacant business.

Devlin wouldn't comment on the case, but Holtgraver had no qualms about discussing it.

"The two officers who went to court that day, had seen me talk with Mr. Ballon and they thought the whole thing was pretty much settled, so they didn't really fight it," he said.

"Devlin said he saw people park on the sidewalk up by the beer distributor, so he didn't think the front of his (Ballon's) property was any different, so he let it go. He didn't know all the facts of the case. And I just don't agree."

But Ballon does.

"When the business was open, customers used it. I have two grown daughters, and when they were growing up, they parked there, their boyfriends parked there. That's what I can't understand," Ballon said.

Holtgraver, who has a printed copy of the site given to him by a friend, isn't much fazed by the craftsmanship, although he acknowledged it must have been time-consuming for all that it entails - potshots and all.

"It worries some that he uses West View as his address, but we were told that when we're ready to put up our own page, which they're working on now, we have the rights to the name. Other than that, I'm not paying it much attention. I figure let him have his fun. I just wish he'd spell my name right."

Throughout the site, a "z" is incorrectly inserted into the chief's last name, to read Holtzgraver.

The battle will continue in court because Ballon hasn't paid his last two tickets. Read all about it on Ballon's Web site at http://www.westview.com.