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L.A.'s parking meter collections process is flawed, audit finds

City controller's audit suggests the city could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars by increasing the frequency of collections on some routes and improving maintenance and repairs of meters.

June 10, 2011|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles transportation officials do not have an accurate inventory of city parking meters and lack proper controls to ensure that all collections are being made, according to an audit released Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.

The audit also exposed problems with scanning devices used to track parking meter revenue and said the department "spends a substantial amount of money" on such faulty tools.

It also argued that the city's Department of Transportation could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars if it refined meter collection efforts by increasing the frequency of collections on some routes and improving maintenance and repairs of meters.

"In these current economic times, we need to make sure that the city gets every penny it is owed," Greuel said in a statement. She further said the Transportation Department should put "controls in place to adequately ensure collections are being made from all parking meters, and those meter payments are being deposited directly in the city's bank accounts."

Transportation Department officials issued a statement soon after the audit was released, saying they have "already implemented many of the recommendations and have replaced most of the older meters with new 'card and coin' meters and pay stations that automatically advise if service is required."

"Additionally, the department is looking at collection frequencies to maximize efficiency," officials said.

The audit was Greuel's third recent examination of the Transportation Department.

The first, released in April, demonstrated that the department had gone soft on chronic scofflaws who rack up multiple unpaid parking tickets, resulting in up to $15 million in missed revenue.

The second audit in May highlighted a little-known "Gold Card Desk" that let elected officials and their aides fast-track citation reviews for their constituents — and possibly have fines eliminated or reduced.

That audit showed approximately 1,000 parking tickets were dismissed through the Gold Card Desk over a single two-year period and that some of those dismissals had little or no justification. Greuel said the lack of accountability regarding citations that were processed through the program opened the door for potential misuse and special treatment.

Some at City Hall said the program was simply a constituent service comparable to graffiti removal. But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa swiftly ordered the desk closed a day after the audit's findings were released. Villaraigosa said he was doing so because even the appearance of preferential treatment is unacceptable.

That audit also showed the transportation agency had been paying its ticket-processing contractor to handle citations that had been voided because of an error and did not require any formal review.

The department also came under further scrutiny after two employees were placed on leave after allegations that, while on duty, they had appeared in a pornographic film that displayed the workers in city uniforms and near a city vehicle.

Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office, issued a statement Thursday applauding Greuel for her work investigating policies and practices at the department.

"We recognize that LADOT has management problems, and the mayor has nominated a new general manager, Jaime de la Vega, to institute reform and work with the controller on a top-to-bottom management review," the statement said.

Villaraigosa also temporarily appointed a top Police Department commander, Michael C. Williams, to help oversee reforms within the Transportation Department's parking enforcement division. Williams said one of his priorities would be to see whether high-tech management systems can improve accountability and communication at the agency.

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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