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Parking ticket audit: Fine-paying public angry at news of special ‘Gold Card Desk’

May 19, 2011 |  2:30 pm

The existence of a so-called "Gold Card Desk" used by the mayor, City Council and other elected officials to appeal traffic citations came as a surprise to dozens of people who showed up to pay tickets at the parking enforcement office in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday.

"I wish they did let us know about it," said Donny Legans, 55, who arrived to pay an $88 parking ticket. "The system is so unfair. Sometimes the meters aren't even working and they give us tickets."

Click to read the auditWhen Legans asked employees inside the parking enforcement office about the "special program" and exclusive "Gold Card Desk" -- and inquired about appealing his penalty through them –- the officials said they knew nothing of such a program.

Document: Read the audit

"They said, 'There is no such thing. You can't appeal,'" said Legans, who works in the air-conditioning business. "They told me, 'You have 30 days to pay this ticket, or it will be doubled.'"

City auditors uncovered the special desk in findings released Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel. She said the "Gold Card Desk" has been responsible for dismissing about 1,000 tickets in a two-year period alone.

Most of those interviewed said they were angry about the program's existence -- and will be even more upset if it turns out that elected officials used the program to get special treatment for themselves and their friends.

John Torres arrived at the parking enforcement office in a fury. He said he got his ticket after the enforcement officer accused him of spending 90 minutes at a meter in the 1400 block of West Washington Boulevard. Torres said he put money in the meter, and had been there for 10 minutes. Since being cited, his fine doubled from $75 to $150 because he had been away on business and didn't have the opportunity to pay it immediately.

Torres, who was surprised to hear about the "Gold Card Desk," said he'd like access to the program himself so he could contest his fine.

"They should notify the public," said Torres, 52, a sewing contractor, adding he suspected city officials would be in no hurry to do so. "The less you know the more money the city can get."

Belen Greene said she too could have benefited from knowing about the "Gold Card Desk."

Greene said in July she paid $52 to settle a parking penalty -- $50 for the ticket, plus $2 to pay the fine online. On July 26, she sent a registered letter to the parking enforcement department showing proof of payment — the debit from her bank account.

But for the last 10 months, the parking department claimed no payment was received. And when Greene arrived at the 2nd Street office Thursday, her fine had jumped to $154. After discussing the matter with officials, she was told to pay $50 and the additional penalties would be waived.

Greene complied, just so that she could finally get the matter settled.

But she was not pleased. If she had known about the city's special program 10 months ago, she would have tried to get her case resolved.

"I would love to have some kind of recourse," she said.


'Gold Card Desk' dismissed some L.A. parking tickets without justification, audit finds

-- Ann M. Simmons

Photo: A parking meter technician pulls a wad of paper out of the coin slot in a meter on Santee Street in downtown Los Angeles in August. Credit:  Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times