When Bob Bostroff applied for a permit to store lumber on the street in front of his West Hills house, he learned he had a choice: Drive downtown or pay a 7% surcharge for the privilege of going to a Van Nuys field office.
Bostroff paid under protest, saying it is discriminatory for residents of outlying areas such as the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles to have to pay more for permits.
"It's grossly unfair," Bostroff said. "I suddenly changed my mind about the Valley seceding from the city."
Bostroff's outrage was shared by City Councilwoman Laura Chick, who wants the Public Works Department to report on the impact of abolishing the surcharge.
"Many residents have complained that because they don't live in the downtown area, they are penalized with this additional cost," Chick said.
The surcharge was created for street-use permits obtained from field offices in order to cover the additional cost of an employee faxing the permits back and forth to the Street Services Division at 6th and Spring streets downtown, according to James Washington, the city's chief street-use inspector.
The city Engineering Bureau, also in the Public Works Department, handles Valley applications for Street Services. When someone applies for a street-use permit, an Engineering Bureau worker must request someone downtown to fax a permit application to the field office, and, once it is filled out, the form must be faxed back downtown, officials said.
"It's an additional service that engineering extends to people so they don't have to come downtown," Washington said. "They have to recover their costs."
For Bostroff, who wanted to store lumber at the curb in front of his home during a remodeling project, the surcharge added $4.60 to the cost of his $66 permit.
"The amount of money is negligible, but it's the principle," Bostroff said.
Washington said he would not oppose rescinding the surcharge, if that is the council's decision.
The manager said he has explored the possibility of making his agency's permits available more easily throughout the city, through the creation of unstaffed kiosks, but that proposal costs more than his division can afford.
"That system is quite expensive, and I haven't been able to find the money," he said.