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List of Los Angeles parking ticket dismissals growing

L.A. council offices were among users of a special desk, the 'Gold Card Desk,' that had parking citations canceled.

July 01, 2011|By Ricardo Lopez and Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times
  • City officials disbanded the Gold Card Desk in May amid public outrage that the city of Los Angeles had a special unit that took care of parking citations.
City officials disbanded the Gold Card Desk in May amid public outrage that…

Despite claims by many top Los Angeles officials that they had never heard of a special service to review parking citations, newly released documents show several City Council offices benefited from the so-called Gold Card Desk by securing dozens of ticket dismissals.

Some of the dismissals involved relatives of local officials or helped council offices quash political fires among irate constituents, the records show.

Officials disbanded the Gold Card Desk in May amid public outrage that the city had a special unit that took care of parking citations. The Times this week reviewed about 4,800 pages of parking ticket records covering a two-year period to determine whose tickets were handled by the desk. The review showed a number of community groups, businesses and city agencies received reviews and dismissals.

Among those whose complaints were funneled through the Gold Card Desk, known to few outside of City Hall, was a former top aide to City Controller Wendy Greuel, who succeeded in getting his mother's citation dropped.

It was Greuel who cast a harsh public spotlight on the ticket review operation in a May audit, saying she had never heard of the service or used it. However, records and interviews show that the Gold Card Desk handled a complaint by Greuel's former press deputy Ben Golombek. He had argued to transportation officials that his mother was unfairly ticketed by an overly aggressive parking enforcement officer. The citation was quickly ordered to be dropped by the head of the city's parking enforcement division. Golombek, who now works for a state lawmaker, declined to comment.

Greuel, who is a possible candidate for mayor, said she was "disappointed" to learn that Golombek had benefited from the service. "No one should go around the normal process," she said.

The complaints of another Los Angeles official, former Department of Building and Safety head Andrew Adelman, who challenged at least four of his own tickets within the two-year period, also were sent to the special desk. Among the reasons Adelman—who later left office in 2009 as police were investigating a rape allegation—requested dismissals was because, he said, he had a valid vehicle registration but his license tags had been stolen. The dismissal requests were all granted. Adelman denied the rape allegations and was never charged.

In December 2009, City of Commerce Councilman Robert C. Fierro contacted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office — who referred the matter to the transportation department, which referred it to the Gold Card Desk — to seek dismissal of a ticket for his wife, the records show.

"She was upset over the way she was treated," Fierro said, adding that he had never heard of the Gold Card Desk until recent news reports.

"She was able to fight the ticket. She had witnesses, it was just a matter of going through the things.… We contacted the mayor's office to file a complaint."

A complete picture of the individuals and cases that were funneled through the Gold Card service in recent years was not possible to reconstruct. The city's transportation department redacted names and other information from a large share of the documents requested by The Times. Officials said the action was necessary to protect the privacy of the average citizens who received special reviews after complaining to the agency.

City officials said their referrals were appropriate and were simply efforts to help constituents.

Though some of the dismissals appeared to be routine and justified, many had little information on why the citations were canceled.

Auditors in Greuel's office recently completed their own analysis of the dismissed citations and found "no comprehensive policies or procedures in place to substantiate the dismissal of 43% of the 1,026 dismissed tickets."

Their analysis also found that 777 of the tickets were dismissed through the Gold Card Desk at the direction of officials within the transportation department. Auditors concluded that 43% of those referrals were internally generated within the transportation department. But they could not determine the origin of the remaining 57% of Gold Card Desk ticket referrals because of insufficient documentation.

Among the tickets dismissed were dozens issued to vehicles belonging to a private firm that launched a city-approved car-sharing program near UCLA. The firm complained it was improperly ticketed when the cars were parked in spaces that should have been exempt from enforcement. Other dismissals involved undercover investigators who received tickets while on the job.

Terri McKinnon, an assistant to Councilwoman Janice Hahn, contacted the transportation department in August 2008 to have about 150 citations dismissed because of problems with new machines installed at a parking lot in her district, the records show. A Hahn spokesman said the citations were properly dismissed.

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