Carlos Cruz left work early Thursday to rush to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Pasadena so he could pay his vehicle registration and avoid a late fee. After waiting nearly two hours in a line that barely moved under the boiling sun, he almost gave up.
"These lines are longer than the rides at Disneyland," said Cruz, 22, an academic coach at a Pasadena charter school.
He considered coming back Friday morning. Then the security guard told him the DMV will be closed most Fridays beginning this week, part of a new furlough program requiring state employees to take mandatory days off with no pay.
Cruz and many others in line said they hardly noticed the letter-sized printouts posted inside the building noting the closure dates. Closing the DVM three Fridays a month makes no sense, Cruz and others said, given the current queues.
"It will mean even longer lines, more frustrated people missing time from work," Cruz said. "And somebody is going to have a heat stroke outside."
With no new state budget in sight, California is forcing nearly 150,000 state workers to take furlough days again this fiscal year. Similar furloughs last year saved the state $2 billion. New unpaid days off could add another $147 million per month to the savings.
The mandatory furloughs amount to about a 14% pay cut for workers.
"We are running out of cash. We are forced to do anything we can to save cash," said Aaron McLear, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's press secretary. "There are very few things the governor can do by himself to save money. Furloughs are one …. The furloughs are a direct result of the [Legislature's] failure to pass the budget."
In addition to the next two Fridays, Schwarzenegger ordered workers also to take a floating unpaid day by the end of August.
People working in law enforcement and tax collection agencies, and those paid through specially earmarked funds, are exempt.
DMV spokeswoman Jan Mendoza said workers had to reschedule appointments for nearly 15,600 people across the DMV's more than 160 field offices throughout California.
"Some people couldn't be reached because some people don't give a good call-back number," she said.
Still, backlogs are unavoidable. That's why the agency has been urging people to use its online services to avoid the long waits.
But many DMV customers said not everything can be done online, and with appointments booked up weeks in advance, showing up to wait in line is often the only option.
Carol Quach of Rosemead was waiting with her 89-year-old father to renew his expired ID. "We tried to do this online," but only driver's licenses can be renewed that way, she said .
Alren Ye, 69, of El Monte said he doesn't know enough English to renew his license online. But the only appointments available were long after his license would have expired.
"So what choice do I have but to come here and wait?" said Ye in Chinese.