Parking tickets and other infractions are getting costlier in Los Angeles… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
The budget crisis facing state and local governments is becoming particularly costly to California motorists, as officials turn to parking and traffic violations as a way to boost their depleted coffers.
The ticket for an expired meter in Los Angeles jumped from $40 in 2008 to about $50 last year, and "fix-it" tickets for minor moving violations such as broken taillights more than doubled.
And officials are now hatching new ideas to bring in even more money from naughty motorists.
L.A. and other cities are urging the Legislature to allow them to place wheel boots on cars that have as few as three unpaid parking tickets. Currently, the law allows the boot only after a driver accumulates five parking tickets. In L.A. alone, officials estimate the change would help them recover overdue parking citations totaling up to $61 million.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants cities and counties to install speed sensors on red-light cameras to catch speeding cars. Fines would range from $225 to $325, and state officials estimate the change would generate more than $300 million for the state through the end of 2011.
California is not alone. Government agencies across the country are increasingly boosting parking ticket fees, jacking up the fines for moving violations and looking for other creative ways to make drivers pay more.
Revenue from red-light cameras is also on the rise, doubling in L.A. from $200,000 a month in 2007 to $400,000 a month at the end of 2009, according to estimates prepared by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which processes ticket payments. The city more than doubled the amount charged for motorists who make rolling right turns against red lights from $156 to $381 in 2008, bringing it in line with other cities.
Additional costs, including traffic school fees, often add to the price drivers pay. Last year, the state increased the fines for traffic tickets and used the proceeds to help renovate courthouses. The changes included a $35 surcharge on traffic tickets.
With California mired in recession and residents unwilling to pay more taxes, focusing on parking and traffic fines is one of relatively few politically palatable ways to raise revenue.
But the tactics anger some drivers -- as well as tax groups and driving organizations.
"This is one of those things where we understand the need to enforce parking and traffic laws, but the purpose should be to get people to drive safely and park appropriately," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. "It should not be looked at as a gold mine for cities and counties and states to raise revenue."
He and others said some of the fines don't seem to fit the crimes.
"If you get a $15 or $20 ticket, it's a reminder," he said. "But when you start going $50 or more, I think there is going to be a backlash."
Chris Lee, 36, of Glendale agreed. "The laws are the law," said Lee, a jewelry designer, who received a speeding ticket this week for going 41 mph in a 25 mph zone on Brand Boulevard. "The economy is already bad for us."
Others say drivers can avoid fines by following the rules.
Natasha Travis, 38, an attorney who lives in Santa Monica, said that although she lives in a place where "they give out tickets like crazy," she pays hers promptly because she knows when she's at fault.
In L.A., the proposal to reduce the number of outstanding tickets before a car is booted comes as officials said they were having trouble collecting parking fines.
About 1.8 million traffic infractions were issued in L.A. County last year, according to the Superior Court, and about 3 million parking tickets are issued each year by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, a figure that has held steady for several years, said Bruce Gillman, department spokesman. About one-quarter of those tickets are for violations during street cleaning and run $60.
Many parking violators do not pay their tickets on time, Gillman said.
The current policy of five unpaid tickets is an "overly lenient policy that discourages vehicle owners from paying their parking citations in a timely manner," according to a report by the LADOT.
The threat of getting the boot after three or four unpaid tickets would make owners more likely to pay their citations, officials said, and also boost city coffers.
L.A. collects $19 million under the current parking code. If the number of unpaid parking citations to garner the boot is reduced to four, the city estimates that it would recover nearly $26 million in overdue fines. If it is reduced to three, the change would result in an additional $61 million.