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The Great Parking Ticket Boom : Citations Are Harder Than Ever to Avoid; How to Understand--if Not Appreciate--Yours

May 19, 1988|BILL STEIGERWALD | Times Staff Writer

Sometimes it seems like getting a parking ticket in Los Angeles is easier than getting a sunburn.

Whether your windshield has been decorated with the traditional $13 meter violation or the more esoteric $28 alley violation, most likely you're 100% guilty as charged.

But don't take it personally. You've merely been caught in what might some day be called the Great Parking Ticket Boom of the 1980s.

Last year, according to the number-keepers at the Los Angeles Transportation Department, the City of Los Angeles wrote 3.2 million parking tickets, twice as many as it did in 1982.

Los Angeles issues more parking tickets than any city in the state (San Francisco wrote 2.3 million last year), but other local cities aren't suffering from writer's block. Beverly Hills, probably the world leader in parking tickets written per square mile of area, wrote about 350,000 last year. Santa Monica wrote 300,000, Pasadena 107,000.

More Tickets Than Vehicles

Add another 1.5 million or so tickets that were written by smaller municipalities throughout L.A. County, and the total of parking tickets flying around the county--by no means a complete total--approaches 6 million. That's more parking tickets than cars and trucks (5.6 million) registered in L.A. County.

This dramatic increase is no accident.

Traditionally, urban parking enforcement has been a low-priority concern of police departments, as it was in Los Angeles until mid-1985. That's when parking responsibilities were transferred from the LAPD to specialists at the city's Department of Transportation.

The consolidation and streamlining of public parking operations that has occurred in Los Angeles is part of a national trend, according to Kevin Hagerty, an assistant parking director for San Francisco, a city whose soon-to-be-consolidated parking system he described as bureaucratized, inefficient and suffering from "bad management."

Three-Day Trade Show

The public parking industry is not just booming. It's also going professional. Membership is growing in the Institutional & Municipal Parking Congress, which publishes a slick monthly trade magazine, Parking Professional. And the California Public Parking Assn., of which Hagerty is a past president, recently held a three-day trade show in Anaheim that included computerized parking ticket writers, solar-powered parking meters and meters that accept credit cards.

Unfortunately, even professionals haven't found a way to stretch the 12,000 miles of curbs in Los Angeles to create more parking spaces. As anyone knows who's tooled around L.A. for more than a few days, it's virtually impossible to not commit a parking violation on occasion--especially in such busy areas as downtown L.A., Hollywood and Westwood, where off-street parking is costly and on-street parking is in great demand.

Not uncoincidentally, those are the top three areas for meter violations, according to Robert Yates, the parking administrator for the L.A. Department of Transportation. Yates carries around in his head a wealth of statistical information about parking, and what he doesn't know is available from a desk-side computer terminal in his office behind Union Station. According to Yates' projections, for example, about 4 million cars in the City of Los Angeles will have the dreaded but familiar pink and yellow ticket tucked snugly under their windshield wipers this year.

With help from Yates and others, it's possible to put the lone parking ticket on your windshield into context, as well as to explain how various parts of the complex, city-county-state parking ticket system works--or doesn't work.

For starters, your parking ticket was probably written by a specialist, one of the city's 450 traffic officers who drive around in compact white Pontiac 1000s and write 94% of all parking tickets. Another 100 traffic officers will be hired soon, said Yates, who considers parking enforcement just "one tool in managing the competing interests of traffic, parking and transportation."

Quotas Denied

In addition to being trained in directing traffic and impounding vehicles, these parking police patrol the streets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, writing an average of 50 tickets per day. Some, Yates said, write as many as 150 a day. But there's absolutely no basis, he said, for the common suspicion that traffic officers have parking ticket quotas.

The yellow side of each ticket includes your car's description and license plate number. The information on the ticket is entered into the computers of Datacom, a data processing company owned by Lockheed that handles parking tickets for Los Angeles, Santa Monica and other cities, including Boston and Dallas.

The most commonly committed violation on L.A. streets is the generic No Parking. Of 3.2 million parking tickets in 1987, about 997,000 were for No Parking (at $28 each). About 25%, Yates said, occurred during street cleaning times.

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