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Residents fume as L.A. looks to jack up parking ticket fines

Mayor seeks increase in parking fines

Los Angeles officials are pushing for another hike in parking ticket fines, which have inceeased as much as 94% over the last seven years.

Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa and the City Council have turned time and again to parking infractions to help balance the city's budget, which this year faces a $238-million shortfall.

With the latest proposed hikes, the city would collect about $40 million a year more than during Villaraigosa's first year in office, much of it from street-sweeping violations that leave many residents fuming.

The mayor's budget calls for the street-sweeping penalty to reach $78, more than in any neighboring city and, in certain cases, nearly twice the amount charged elsewhere in Los Angeles County.

If the City Council approves the proposed increase, the sixth in the last seven years, the cost of a street-sweeping violation will have risen 73% since 2005, the year Villaraigosa was elected. Other penalties, such as for parking in a fire lane or too close to a fire hydrant, will have grown between 82% and 94% in the Villaraigosa era.

But there is a growing push-back to the ever-increasing fines, particularly from those who argue they are really a regressive tax on those who live in densely populated areas.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, an organization that advocates on behalf of low-income renters, said parking tickets — especially those issued on street-sweeping day — disproportionately affect working-class families in Koreatown, Westlake and other neighborhoods packed with apartment buildings and too few parking spaces, he said.

"The burden is felt hardest by those who can least afford to pay," he said.

Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders did not respond to that assertion, saying instead that parking fines make up only 3% of the city's revenue base. He said in a statement that the Department of Transportation, which issues the tickets, needs to reach its financial targets "so that vital city services can be preserved."

The hikes already have far outpaced inflation, which rose in Southern California by less than 18% since 2005, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Shacola Thompson, who lives in North Hollywood, said the $68 ticket she received last month was painful enough.

"There are a lot of things I could do with that money," said the 23-year-old secretary. "I could pay a phone bill. I could go out and shop. That could be my movie ticket money."

Of the $134 million collected in parking fines last year, more than one-third came from cars illegally parked during street-cleaning hours — when lumbering city trucks swoosh through neighborhoods scooping up accumulated dirt and refuse from gutters.

The dance of car owners, sweepers and parking-enforcement officers plays out hundreds of times each week across the city, when half the parking on a block disappears for a few hours. The next day, the other half disappears.

Motorists frequently gamble that they will remember to race out and move their vehicles before the sweepers — and ticket patrols — arrive.

Sarah Lopez, 23, didn't beat the clock. The Koreatown resident said her late-night job as a cashier ends around midnight at the earliest on street-sweeping days. She gets back so late that parking near her home is taken — forcing her to circle three or four blocks looking for a spot.

Last week, she parked her car in a street-sweeping zone after deciding it was too dangerous to walk four blocks to her apartment so late at night. "I was just tired of looking for parking," she said. "I wanted to go home."

She overslept and found a $68 ticket waiting for her.

-- David Zahniser

Photo: A ticket for a street-sweeping violation adorns the windshield of a car parked on Logan Street in Los Angeles. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed a $10 increase to an array of parking infractions. The fine for parking illegally on street-clearning days would rise from $68 to $78, more than in any neighboring city. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 
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