Los Angeles parking officials contend that traffic officers are not writing enough tickets--and Mayor Tom Bradley is considering putting a private company in charge of the city's entire parking enforcement program.
"It's possible (that) under the watch of a private profit-minded company, our parking ticket program could become even more successful," said Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani.
But the traffic officers whose union contract with the city expired in June, 1989, say they should be rewarded with higher wages because parking ticket revenues have increased fivefold in the last five years.
"There has been gain for everybody but the good soldiers out there writing citations," said David Trowbridge, general manager of Local 347 of the Service Employees International AFL-CIO, representing the city's 562 traffic officers.
The issue has become more than a labor dispute. Parking officials allege that the ticket officers are engaged in a work slowdown that will result in a $20-million drop-off in ticket revenue this year, exacerbating the city's financial problems.
Parking officials said that city Department of Transportation officers are writing an average of 39 tickets a day. Fabiani said that compares unfavorably to a number of other cities, such as Washington, where officers issue an average of 80 tickets a day, and Boston, where 75 tickets is the norm.
Trowbridge denied there is a slowdown. Due to increases in the amounts of parking fines, imposed last year, and The Times' recent stories about parking scofflaws, "There are fewer tickets out there to write," he said.
In interviews with half a dozen officers, traffic officers complained that they are considered "revenue-producing assets" rather than traffic officers serving the public interest. They said they are under such pressure to write tickets that they occasionally issue questionable citations in order to meet a daily quota.
Parking officials deny there is any quota, but say they have "standards" that must be upheld.
The current parking enforcement system dates back to 1984 when the City Council ordered the city's fragmented system centralized and placed under the control of the Department of Transportation.
The city contracts with Lockheed Information Management Services Co. to process and collect the parking tickets. But the tickets are written by traffic officers employed by the city.
The annual revenue from parking tickets has increased from $18 million in 1985 to $90 million last year, officials report.
But now the mayor is "very interested" in the concept of private traffic enforcement to increase the number of citations, Fabiani said.
". . . If you've got people who aren't doing the job, you've got to find a way to get the job done," he said. "If it turns out private management could better get the job done, then the mayor is interested in pursuing that."
It was unclear whether contracting out parking enforcement would have any impact on the jobs of the traffic officers.
National parking experts could only cite one government entity--Montgomery County, Md.--that contracts with a private company for traffic officers.
Trowbridge said that it makes no sense for Los Angeles to contract out parking enforcement, because the number of tickets issued has quadrupled in recent years.
"The only part of the (city parking program) that isn't working effectively is the part that is contracted out, which is collections," Trowbridge said, noting that the amount of unpaid parking fines has grown to $226.6 million. "They haven't even collected from all the tickets we've written."
The productivity of traffic officers first became an issue nearly a year ago when officers complained that they were forced to issue a minimum number of tickets daily.
Councilman Nate Holden, chairman of the council's Traffic and Transportation Committee, conducted a public hearing and called on city parking officials to abandon ticket-writing goals.
City Parking Administrator Bob Yates denied then and now that there has ever been a quota system. "Much of last year 75 to 100 officers wrote between 60 and 100 tickets a day. We believe it is appropriate for officers to be someplace in that range," he said.
Copies of recent performance evaluations written by parking supervisors provided by the union showed "standards" had to be met.
In April, one officer was given a disciplinary notice that read in part: "This beat (yields) 62 cites per day and your lack of effort produced 28 cites, which is below the standard. Your job performance is below standard and will not be accepted." "Cites" are citations or parking tickets.
Yates responded: "We have done beat analyses and validated that (this) beat averaged 60-odd citations. We aren't saying you have to write 62, but clearly 28 a day is substandard."
The officers are neither penalized nor lose their jobs when they issue fewer tickets, said Julie Butcher, a Local 347 field representative, but the union fears that could happen in the future.