A Los Angeles parking enforcement officer is shown moments after ticketing… (Ciro Cesar / La Opinion )
Everyone has an opinion about what's news and what isn't. Even parking enforcement officers.
Some Los Angeles news reporters and photographers using city-issued media parking permits are being ticketed by officers who do not believe newsworthy activity is taking place.
"I've been cited too many times to count, maybe 10 tickets," said Gary Leonard, a photographer for the Los Angeles Downtown News.
One recent ticket — carrying a $53 fine for being in a loading zone on Broadway — was slapped on Leonard's windshield directly above the city's media parking placard.
Under the "comments" section of the ticket, the enforcement officer wrote: "media placard displayed/no visible activity."
Leonard said he has received similar tickets while parked near the downtown library and in the vicinity of Staples Center.
"These officers are not trained to know all the news activity that could be underway in a particular area," he said. Many times reporters and photographers are working on stories that are not attracting other media outlets, Leonard said.
News organizations pay $100 for each of the annual permits, which allow reporters and photographers to park in metered, preferential and other curbside areas while gathering news. They are especially valuable for broadcasters and photographers using bulky equipment.
Reporters and photographers for The Times do not participate in the program; they pay to park at metered spaces or in commercial lots and are reimbursed by the newspaper. The paper does not pay for parking tickets.
Ringo H.W. Chiu, staff photographer for the Los Angeles Business Journal, was ticketed last month while parked near Figueroa and 2nd streets. It was the second citation he has received while using his placard.
"They said no news event was happening there. I told them I was on assignment and it only took me 10 minutes to shoot the picture" of a downtown building, Chiu said.
"I just paid the $58 ticket this morning. I'd mailed in the evidence, but they said I'd have to come in person to fight it. I have to take a half-day off to do that."
The same thing happened to La Opinion staff photographer Ciro Cesar. When he returned to his car after covering a story in the LAPD's Rampart Division, he found a parking enforcement officer sticking a citation under his windshield wiper.
When he pointed to the city media placard in plain view on his dashboard, the officer shook his head.
"You're not doing a bona fide assignment," he told Cesar. "I don't see any TV trucks here."
Three photographers and at least four reporters at the Spanish-language daily newspaper have been slapped with parking tickets while on news-gathering assignments despite displaying the city permit in their windshield.
Cesar said he's spent hours trying to undo his more than half-a-dozen citations, which have totaled about $350. On one occasion, the city's Department of Transportation responded to Cesar with a letter assuring him that it had investigated his complaint thoroughly and found that "the meter was working perfectly."
"I know the city needs more money. But we're not parking in front of a bar — we're working when we use those permits," he said.
Yolanda Arenales, a reporter at La Opinion, has received three parking citations while her placard-equipped car was parked at the scene of news downtown on Figueroa and Flower streets and on the Eastside.
"I appealed them all and they didn't make me pay. But I had to go through the whole process three times," she said.
Broadcast news crews driving vehicles marked with their stations' logo are apparently left alone by parking enforcement officers, even when parked on sidewalks or in no-parking zones.
"Most of the time the placards work," said Pete Demetriou, a reporter for KNX-AM (1070).
But while driving his station's unmarked SUVs, he has encountered parking enforcement officers who told him he wasn't doing news-gathering because "you're not on TV."
"That's nonsense. I convinced them that the media is the media, there are no second-class citizens here," Demetriou said.
Broadcast industry leaders said they have considered conducting training sessions for parking enforcement officers.
"It's as if there should be a demonstration in the street or there's no news," said Rick Terrell, executive director of the Radio and Television News Assn. of Southern California. "They're starting to infringe into the area of news judgment."
Terrell's group helps coordinate the yearly permit renewal process. He estimated that about 600 of the placards are in use in Los Angeles.
Department of Transportation officials, meanwhile, say they are taking steps to remedy the problem. They said some enforcement officers may have confused the media placards with similar curbside parking permits issued to workers from government agencies.
"We issued a training memorandum pointing out that the news media has different-colored placards. We are trying to re-educate the team," department spokesman Bruce Gillman said.
Gillman said he knows of no instance of a news media parking permit being abused since the program's launch in 1994. But, he said, "it is not the department's policy to question a reporter when using the placard and parking in an appropriate manner."