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A $133,309 Civics Lesson in Hermosa Beach : Unhappy Crowds File in to Pay Parking Fines

April 07, 1985|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

HERMOSA BEACH — There were wet brows, red faces, cold stares and even occasional cuss words. One elderly woman burst into tears. Another trembled.

"A lot of people just aren't real happy to be here," explained Valerie Mohler, who is one of several Finance Department employees who collects parking ticket fines in this city infamous for its parking citations. "During the summer it gets even worse. It gets hot and they get hot."

Last week, Mohler and her co-workers were digging their way out of a mountain of parking citations that hundreds of South Bay residents paid during a monthlong citation amnesty ordered by the Hermosa Beach City Council.

The amnesty, designed to bring much needed cash into the city by luring otherwise reluctant violators to City Hall, ended last Monday with the city $133,309 richer than it was four weeks earlier. During the same period last year, when the city offered no amnesty incentives, the Finance Department collected just $65,000 in parking fines, city officials said.

Handfuls of Tickets

"Some people came in with handfuls of tickets," Mohler said.

"It was like a madhouse," added cashier Kathy Chiles, her desk piled with bundles of tickets. The crowds peaked just two days before the program ended when 82 people filed into the office, she said, adding that the department was also inundated with scores of citations paid through the mail.

During the amnesty period, many motorists whose parking fines had increased because they did not pay their tickets within seven days were permitted to pay the original fine rather than the increased penalty. To some of them, like Cathie English, a 22-year-old Hermosa Beach resident, it meant substantial cash savings.

"I have eight tickets that they told me would cost me over $200," English said. "Under the amnesty, I pay only $121. It definitely makes it worth the trip."

To the surprise, disappointment and anger of many parking violators, however, the amnesty did not extend to drivers whose registrations had been placed on hold by the state Department of Motor Vehicles because of long overdue tickets.

No Vanishing Debts

Those violators, Mohler said, tended to have the reddest faces and the shortest tempers after they climbed the steps to the Finance Department only to discover their debt to the city was not about to vanish.

"I had one guy with seven tickets, and he had a hold on his registration," said cashier Harriet Holbert. "He had me fill out all of the forms; then he walked away and said he wasn't going to pay. He said he would go to court."

Other violators with holds on their registrations paid their fines nonetheless--money the city may never have received if motorists had not mistakenly believed they qualified for amnesty, Mohler said.

"We made it very clear from the beginning that the amnesty wasn't for everyone," she said. "But there were a lot of upset people who didn't find out until they got here."

$700,000 Collected

The revenues from the amnesty program push the total for parking citation revenues over the $700,000 mark for fiscal 1985, according to Finance Department statistics.

During all of fiscal 1984, which ended last July, the city collected just $457,000 for parking violations.

The number of citations issued by parking enforcement officers has also increased dramatically since last year. In 1984, the city issued about 52,000 citations. During the first two months of 1985, officers had already written nearly 11,000, according to Marguerite Sturges, citations records supervisor.

Moreover, grace periods that were allowed for parking violators in the downtown area have been lifted, and parking enforcement hours, reduced for about a year, have been extended once again into the late evening, Sturges said.

Parking Ticket Capital

Based on Finance Department statistics, the city appears to be returning to the days when it was less than affectionately known as a parking ticket capital of the Los Angeles area. In fiscal 1982, for example, when that reputation was at its height, parking ticket revenue accounted for 10% of all city revenues. With a budget of $9.2 million this fiscal year and parking ticket revenue already in excess of $700,000, that mark could easily be surpassed, city officials said.

"It is an important source of revenue," Sturges acknowledged. "People don't like it, but if they simply parked legally they wouldn't have any problems."

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