LONG BEACH — Residents hoping to toss out Christmas Eve parking tickets along with their dry fir trees and torn gift boxes better think twice. Anyone who got a $22 parking ticket for blocking a street-sweeping truck Dec. 24 must pay it.
The City Council this week refused to vote on a request to dismiss street-sweeping tickets issued Dec. 24. The council's lack of action, in effect, allows the fines to stand.
But council members agreed to consider whether people should be ticketed on future Christmas and New Year's eves.
The touchy issue arose recently when a neighborhood leader complained that city workers issued nearly three times as many tickets Dec. 24 as on an average day.
Robert E. Fox, president of the Alamitos Beach Neighborhood Assn., asked the council Tuesday to dismiss the 2,835 tickets issued Dec. 24. The city averages 1,060 such tickets daily.
Noting that his south Long Beach neighborhood has too few parking spaces to accommodate its residents, Fox complained that the city was "creating a feeling of abuse and mistrust among its people."
Fox also asked the council to consider exempting congested areas from tickets on days such as Christmas Eve, when many people stay home from work.
Although they would not dismiss the tickets, council members agreed to send the matter to a committee for further study.
"We cannot allow this situation to occur in the future," Councilman Alan Lowenthal said. He recommended that the council look into exempting congested neighborhoods from street-sweeping tickets on dates such as the day before Christmas.
After the meeting, Fox said he was pleased that the council will search for solutions to the holiday parking problem. "Everyone is home that day," he said. "If guests come here for Christmas Eve and get a ticket, they really get a negative image of the city."
New Year's Eve is another date under consideration. On Dec. 31, city workers gave out 2,046 street-sweeping tickets, according to Melba Fabarez, a customer service supervisor who oversees ticket collections.
Councilman Doug Drummond said he thinks that the city should continue to sweep streets as scheduled, but without issuing parking tickets on some special days.
But Councilman Evan Anderson Braude cautioned his colleagues that in a city as diverse as Long Beach, there may be other holidays or special occasions that deserve the same treatment as the day before Christmas. "There are other faiths involved, other cultures," he noted.
Councilman Warren Harwood suggested that the city send out notices in utility bills to remind people about street sweeping.
Some crowded neighborhoods with limited parking have received special treatment, Councilman Ray Grabinski noted, because "some areas are designed to make people victims."
In Naples, for example, police officers give residents "a lot of leeway because of the parking problem there," police spokesman Bob Anderson said. People parked in alleys or driving the wrong way on a one-way alley may not necessarily be cited, he said.
In a related matter, city officials continue to sift through more than 150 parking tickets issued Dec. 24 to people in the Alamitos Beach neighborhood who may not know that they were ticketed because Fox pulled the tickets off their windshields. Fox said that his action was well-intentioned and that he returned the tickets to City Hall.
This week, City Manager James C. Hankla sent out letters explaining what happened and advising people who received tickets to either pay the fine or appeal in court.
During Tuesday's council meeting, Fox apologized for picking up his neighbors' tickets and attributed his action to a misunderstanding between him and Hankla on Christmas Eve.
"Now the deed is done and there's nothing I can do to take it back," he said.