Stories of parking ticket pain

When Angelenos talk about parking fines, things can get emotional. Many are forced to accept that to live and drive in LA is to park and pay.

Echo Park

Photo by Natasha Bitter

"I feel it’s unfair. It angers me, but at the same time it makes me feel like I’m not a person."

Sunset Boulevard

Photos by April Carpena, Natasha Bitter, Michael Heiges, Adrian Mahlstede, and Allison Wolfe

“[My customers] won’t want to come back.”

The Grove

Photo by Michael Heiges

"They’re vultures!"

Same violation, different consequences

Every driver may have a story, but not everyone feels the pain of parking tickets equally.

Like a flat tax, Angelenos don’t feel the pain equally.

Getting a parking ticket is never fun, but like taxes and jury duty, parking fines are an inevitable part of any urban society. Los Angeles took in more than $150 million in parking fines last year. Not so many years ago, the parking system was based almost entirely on coin-­operated meters.

In a city that revolves around the automobile, many citizens feel that public transportation fails to meet their needs. Never mind the car itself, a driver must also cough up cash for gas, insurance, registration, inspection, repairs... and then there’s parking. More affluent housing provides more parking options, but everyone else has to jockey for a spot.

Jay Beeber, co­-founder of the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative, says, “Really, the people who are the most disadvantaged economically are the ones who are hurt the most. And that’s really not fair.”

No one likes getting a ticket, but it doesn’t break the bank for the more affluent Angelenos. For a minimum wage-earner, a single parking violation can be devastating.

“An $80 fine for somebody who makes a lot of money...is not going to mean a whole bunch to them,” says Beeber. “But somebody who is, say, a day laborer or works cleaning somebody’s house...that could be the entire wages made that day.”

Even if you have the time and energy to appeal, you often find yourself tangled in a web of bureaucracy and a pile of late fees. City officials may claim parking meters and tickets reduce traffic and generate revenue for the city, but citizens can’t see these effects in a tangible way. So where does the money actually go? Who is actually paying the price?

How it all works

To pay or to fight? That is the question.

The usual way to fight a ticket involves a three-step process. First, you contest the ticket via letter, phone or online without paying the ticket. If that fails, you can request an administrative hearing, but you must then pay the ticket. If that fails, your last resort is an appeal with Superior Court.

Frustrated yet?

Many Angelenos find that this three-tier system works against them. Frank S. Park, a resident of Koreatown, has been fighting a ticket since January:

“They don’t take my complaint,” Park said outside the Parking Violations Bureau. “My original ticket was about $70 or something. They dropped my complaint and they raised the amount to $191. They gave me some time for a complaining period, but after that period, they raised it. They said I was blocking a driveway. There is no driveway there. That’s a bus stop. So that’s nonsense. Even when I make a complaint, it’s bureaucracy. They’re handling their own power.”

Claude Collins-­Stracensky of Hollywood has been in his own longstanding battle with the Parking Violations Bureau over tickets he insists were written in error. In fact, Collins-­Stracensky left LA after living here for 15 years, citing his experiences with parking enforcement as one of his primary reasons for moving.

Collins­-Stracensky grew frustrated with the opacity of the system. “If you do manage to catch their letters in time,” Collins-­Stracensky said, “the only recourse with the [Parking Violations Bureau] is to spend valuable time and resources of both the citizens and the LA City Court system. This doesn’t seem ethical.”

Collins-­Stracensky took to the internet to vent his frustrations with LA parking enforcement on Yelp. Without delay, the internet responded. Collins-­Stracensky was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of negative feedback users took time to detail on the Yelp page.

“This isn’t just some annoyance,” he said, “I realized I was part of some sort of corruption scheme. They [the Parking Violations Bureau] are very skillful, it is run just like the Mafia.”

If, as Collins­-Stracensky realized through his Yelp review, these experiences are so common, and if the revenue that parking citations generate for the city is a mere 2% of the total budget, why does LA continue to operate in the same manner? Are there more effective alternatives possible?

David Hegarty, founder of Fixed, a new app that claims to fight your parking tickets for you, agrees that Los Angeles is problematic when it comes to fair evaluation of parking ticket appeals.

“The city of LA is probably the worst city we’ve had to deal with,” he said by email. “They are unhelpful and deliberately obstructionist.”

Is your street a parking ticket hot spot?

The map below is a random sample of 1,000 parking tickets given in January through May 2015, showing the patterns of enforcement throughout the City of Los Angeles. Click on each ticket marker to see its location, violation description and fine amount.

'Folk Hero' fights back

LA Weekly called traffic and parking reform activist Jay Beeber “LA’s newest folk hero” after his successful effort to abolish red light camera fines. Since then, Beeber has fought for the issues important to Los Angeles and its citizens as co--founder of Safer Streets LA and the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative. At the invitation of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, Beeber co­-chairs the city’s Working Group on Parking Reform to identify goals and solutions to parking issues.

Interview with Jay Beeber, Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative Video link here

In brief, these are the most significant of the Los Angeles Parking Reform Working Group’s proposals:

1) Develop a progressive tiered system of violation fines based on Angelenos’ median hourly income. Under this system, a base fine of $23 would increase with each additional ticket, punishing repeat offenders more than one­time offenders.

2) Price parking according to demand, such as during events and holidays.

3) Institute a system for parking meters that charges drivers for their exact parking duration.

4) Re-evaluate street cleaning schedules to avoid peak parking hours and reduce the number of tickets given for confusing street cleaning signs.

5) Dedicate parking revenue to a specific transportation management Enterprise Fund that would be used solely for transportation, parking, and mobility services.

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What's next for Los Angeles?

The Parking Reform Working Group has its work cut out for them. While they have presented their recommendations to the transportation commission, there are still hurdles to jump. Some facets of the group's proposals could be instituted with minimal bureaucracy, while others, like changing the price of a parking ticket, must be approved by the LA city council.

Beeber’s recommendations could propel a sea change in the way the city and its citizens face parking. Beeber told the LA Times in April that the main thing parking reform would do is bolster citizen trust in the city. So far, Mayor Garcetti has been slowly taking these ideas under consideration, but the effects have yet to be felt. The old system of parking fines, about which citizens have any number of unfavorable words to say, could be eradicated altogether. Beeber’s proposed system may bring about a fairer approach to ticket fines, late fees and city revenue. The unequal burden of parking fines could be significantly leveled and nightmarish ticketing stories could be a problem of the past.