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Council Raises Parking Offense Fines; Some More Than Double


SANTA MONICA — The price of parking tickets in Santa Monica is going up, up, up.

Citing the need to increase revenue, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday voted 6 to 1 to increase fines for an array of parking violations, in some cases more than doubling them.

The changes, which will go into effect July 1, are expected to add $2.2 million to the $4 million the city currently takes in from parking violation fines. About 400,000 parking tickets a year are issued in the city.

The new fine for illegally parking on street-sweeping day will leap from $15 to $38. An expired meter ticket will be $28 instead of $15.

Councilman Robert T. Holbrook was the lone dissenter, suggesting instead a 20% hike in parking fine fees. He accused his colleagues of having their judgment clouded by the free-parking placards that they get as council members.

"Here's a body of people who don't get tickets," Holbrook said. "Because we don't have to worry, I think that makes us a little bit jaded."

Holbrook was reminded by Councilman Kelly Olsen that council members were expected to feed the meters unless they were on city business. Defining city business, however, is left up to them.

City Finance Director Mike Dennis said raising the fines was necessary to bring them in line with West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, so the cities can have a cost-effective joint system for collection. A state law decriminalizing parking fines set the stage for a new civil fine system that will be administered by the cities instead of the courts.

All fines include a $5 courthouse construction fee that does not go to the cities.

Dennis also argued that higher fines would "remove possible financial incentives for people to disobey our traffic laws" because they know it will not cost them as much as in neighboring cities.

Finally, the new system was billed as providing convenience to parking scofflaws who could pay tickets from three jurisdictions at one place.

For the second time, Dennis presented the revamped fee structure to the council as merely revisions of the fines.

At the meeting, Councilman Paul Rosenstein had to ask twice before he got specific information on the new fine for street-sweeping tickets, which are almost all paid by Santa Monica residents.

Rosenstein said he was shocked when he learned of how much the fine would be and "got no inkling from the staff report" of the magnitude of the increase.

After the meeting, Dennis defended the staff report, saying it clearly stated how much fees would go up.

Dennis told the council that somewhat more than half of the parking tickets issued are to non-residents. But he later acknowledged that nearly all of the 67,000 street-sweeping tickets are issued to Santa Monicans. He said the dramatic jump in street-sweeping ticket fine was part of an effort to keep toxic debris out of the storm drains.

If the same number of street-sweeping tickets are given out under the new fee schedule, the city will garner an additional $1.5 million in annual revenue for this infraction alone.

Just two members of the public spoke against the fee hikes. Business owner Michael Meyer said charging someone $38 for not putting a quarter in the meter amounts to theft.

"If someone's out shopping in this community, you don't charge them $38 when they're short a quarter," Meyer said.

Meyer reminded the council that $38 is a day's pay for someone with a minimum wage job.

But the council majority, noting the need to recoup an expected $6-million shortfall in state revenues, was unmoved.

"This is not an issue we need to take up in detail," Councilman Ken Genser said. "We don't want to attract people who violate the law to this community. . . . These fines are intended to be deterrents."

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