Investigative Report: City of L.A. Still Issuing Illegal Parking Tickets

The City of Los Angeles is so deep in red ink, they are flagrantly violating state law in an effort to generate revenue, and have been for 12 years.

As I reported in an earlier column, officers from the Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) are still videotaping cars parked in 15-minute or loading zones around elementary schools. This videotaping occurs during school drop-off and pick-up hours, as kids start their days to learn, or leave to be reunited with their parents – parents who will receive tickets by mail in a few days.

parking tickets

This is an illegal method under California law by which parking tickets may be delivered. The 2010 California Vehicle Code, Division 17, Article 3.5, Sec. 40202(a,b,d) explicitly states that the ticket must be placed on the vehicle, and may only be delivered through the mail if the car is driven away while it is being ticketed.

The MSM is nowhere to be found regarding this issue. Instead, citizens must rely on the superior consumer protection reporting of local news stations to fuel their outrage. These stations, along with the LA Weekly, have taken on the City of Los Angeles where the MSM has abandoned its responsibility.

So has BigJournalism.com, and your intrepid reporter.

After witnessing Enforcement Officers videotaping vehicles, I informed them that any tickets issued from videotaping were illegal.

They ignored me. Who can blame them? They’re only the most hated employees of a bloated government payroll, who probably get yelled at all day long.

So I asked Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Gillman to comment on this program. His excerpted Email reply appears below:

This program began in May of 1998 in partnership with LAPD and LAUSD, to enhance safety around elementary schools primarily during arrivals and dismissals. Parents were …contributing to unsafe conditions. When Traffic Officers approached vehicles breaking the law, confrontations occurred and many vehicles ‘drove-off.’ Modeled after a program in Simi Valley and conceived here by an LAPD Motor Officer, with the assistance of the City Attorney’s Office, the program was launched in the City of Los Angeles.

LADOT only responds with video enforcement when the school asks us to.

Below are the violation totals for video enforcement for the past 3 fiscal years:

FY 07-08 – 1466

FY 08-09 – 7389

FY 09-10 – 1186

The obvious question that comes to mind: Did then-City Attorney Shelly Smith or her cohorts bother to read up on the Vehicle Code? Should we assume it was simple incompetence at the City Attorney’s office that allowed such an oversight to occur? Or shall we make the more cynical postulation that the City Attorney’s office knew perfectly well this program was illegal, but that the laborious process of contesting a ticket would permit the scam to be carried out on a clueless populace?

Since it took me about 30 seconds to discover this operation was illegal, I’m taking the cynical route.

Ms. Smith has since retired. My calls and faxes to the City Attorney’s office have not been returned. The MSM has no interest in making the City look worse than it already does. This should not surprise anyone, even though the PVB has already been caught running amok by local news reporters and… a USC student.

To wit, an investigative report by local NBC reporters in May determined that 17,000 illegal tickets had been issued at meters reported to the City as being broken. The reporters obtained internal city documents indicating thousands of tickets issued “in error”.

But wait, that pales in comparison to the 124,000 tickets issued “in error” as discovered by CBS News Investigative Reporting in January.

Meanwhile, USC student and digital journalist Matt Schrader embarrassed the PVB by videotaping some startling moments of his own. Parking officers ticketed cars for parking during street sweeping hours… when no street sweeping actually occurred.

But, hey, I’m sure justice is properly served by those who actually contest parking violations, whether or not they broke the law, and whether or not the ticket was legally served.

Or is it?

Parking violations were decriminalized in California in 1993 to allegedly relieve the courts of the burden. That this happened to place revenue-generating obstacles in front of Due Process was just an unintended consequence. See, rather than be permitted to challenge a ticket in court, citizens must first request an Administrative Review, followed by an Administrative Hearing on appeal. Only if the defendant loses both examinations may he request a court trial.

However, these Administrative Reviews and Hearings are conducted by “impartial examiners”… who just happen to be City employees who have no incentive to deprive the City of badly-needed revenue. Even worse, the ticket is considered prima facie evidence, so the defendant is guilty until proven innocent. The officer is not required to attend, and the City may establish any procedures it chooses for these examinations.

It’s sounding like a Kafka novel, isn’t it?

Not to worry, though. State law requires that “the hearing shall provide an independent, objective, fair, and impartial review of contested parking violations.” Then again, why should the citizens of Los Angeles trust this process when the Mayor himself is already facing ethics questions, and when the PVB is accountable only to the Controller?

The good news is NBC’s report triggered an audit by City Controller Wendy Gruel, as confirmed by Mr. Gillman. To date, Ms. Gruel has done an excellent job in her job. Now she can add this meal to her plate. At a run-rate of 40,000 illegally issued tickets since 1998, Angelenos are due back about $1.6 million.

Will Ms. Gruel follow through? Don’t count on the MSM to follow this story.

But I will.

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