Each year, customers who visit the commercial districts of Northeast Los Angeles plunk about $142,000 worth of quarters, dimes and nickels into the area's 1,200 parking meters.
Under a program designed to make Los Angeles' many small business districts more accessible to customers, these revenues, as well as funds generated by the city's other 28,800 parking meters, are put aside in trust funds to buy parking lots and install meters.
But because of a controversial decision by the Los Angeles City Council, funds in each of the city's 67 districts have been removed from the parking lot acquisition program and used to pay other transportation-related costs.
As a result, such Northeast Los Angeles communities as Eagle Rock and the city's Glendale-Atwater parking district, which once posted healthy five-digit deposits in their parking lot accounts, today show negative balances, according to Los Angeles Department of Transportation officials.
"In some of the smaller parking meter zones . . . which did have money set aside for off-street parking, what funds they had accumulated sort of disappeared," said Guy Inkel, a senior administrative assistant for the city.
Throughout Los Angeles, $8.8 million was removed from the parking lot accounts over a three-year period, beginning in 1981, to pay for such things as salaries for some Transportation Department employees and installation of stop signs, said Phyllis Currie, an assistant city administrative officer.
Today, the city's trust funds total $19.5 million, 85% of which is generated by the teeming business and commercial districts of Hollywood, the Westside and downtown Los Angeles, city officials said. But the $8.8 million in transfers, which left some districts with deficits, has sparked criticism of a 14-year-old city program designed to pay for new city-owned lots. The transfers also left some areas short of funds to pay for more parking spaces.
In the Glendale-Atwater parking district, which lost $20,940 as a result of the transfer, members of the Atwater-Griffith Park Chamber of Commerce voted to oppose the transfer of parking lot funds without approval of local merchants. The district now has a deficit of $213,661.
Accounting to Be Sought
"We are planning to ask the council for an ongoing accounting of parking meter funds," said Bill Hart, president of the chamber.
Hart, who sees a need for more city parking lots, said he has received complaints from area residents that commercial parking is spilling into residential zones.
City Council members whose districts include Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Silver Lake and Echo Park said the loss of funds has not generated any complaints from local merchants.
"There have been no complaints that we're aware of. I'm not sure if anyone is aware the funds have been transferred," said Tom Sullivan, a spokesman for Councilman Richard Alatorre, whose district includes Eagle Rock and parts of Highland Park.
Sullivan said all current projects in Alatorre's district have received funding, including resurfacing a parking lot on Colorado Boulevard.
City officials said several other parking projects are under way in Highland Park, including construction of a city lot behind the Highland Theater on Figueroa Street. Those projects, along with a $37,566 loss in parking funds, have combined to give Highland Park a $388,899 deficit in its parking fund, administrative assistant Inkel said.
Small Districts Hard Hit
City officials said the transfers have hit small districts the hardest.
"A lot of these small communities have accumulated funds over years and years, and it doesn't come in that fast," Inkel said.
For example, in Eagle Rock, a community with 175 meters, the transfer eroded a $23,535 balance into a $5,945 deficit, Inkel said. In the parking district of York Boulevard, a $30,000 balance was chopped in half, leaving $15,235.
City officials said the transfers, which were implemented proportionally by council district, were necessary because of shortages in the city budget. Councilman Gilbert Lindsay's inner-city district lost the most money--$2.4 million-- but several San Fernando Valley council districts without meters lost no money.
According to reports from the city administrative office, losses in Northeast Los Angeles districts ranged from $1.8 million for Councilman John Ferraro, (Echo Park and Silver Lake), $1.3 million for Councilman Mike Woo, (Los Feliz and Griffith Park) and $252,000 for Councilman Joel Wachs (Glassell Park and south Highland Park).
Alatorre's district, which includes parts of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, lost $153,000.
Effects of the fund transfers vary from district to district. For instance, Woo's district has a balance of $4.7 million. Wach's district shows a $400,000 deficit.
Council OKd Diversion