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'Gold Card Desk' dismissed some L.A. parking tickets without justification, audit finds

City Controller Wendy Greuel raises the specter that some people may have received special treatment in the handling of contested traffic tickets.

May 20, 2011|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times

Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Villaraigosa, said the mayor's office had periodically used the program as one of many ways to help constituents.

Callers who thought they didn't deserve certain citations are referred to the Gold Card Desk, she said, adding that the program is open to anyone, not just VIPs or insiders.

"Any resident of the city who feels they received a citation in error, or who needs a sidewalk repaired or graffiti removed can call the mayor's office for assistance," Hamilton said. The Gold Card Desk is a comparable "resource for constituents."

Who else used the service remains a puzzle, even to auditors. Several council members said they had not heard of or used the program.

Councilwoman Jan Perry said that several years ago her staff was briefed about the program, but that she believed neither she nor her staff had ever used it.

Councilman Dennis Zine said he also had heard of the service but never used it and said that "if we can establish or reduce fines, that's news to me."

Another council member, Richard Alarcon, said someone came to his office several years ago to train his staff on the Gold Card program. He provided a memo from the city's ticket contractor explaining that the service is only to help constituents.

"These services are only available for those who have taken their concerns regarding parking citations to the Parking Violations Bureau, but have been unable to come to a resolution based on extenuating circumstances," the memo states.

The audit released Thursday is the second in a series of three focusing on the city transportation department. The first audit, released in April, found that the department had missed out on up to $15 million in revenues because it had gone easy on chronic scofflaws who rack up multiple unpaid parking tickets.

The new audit also found the department pays the ticket-handling contractor to process citations even when they have been voided by a traffic officer because of mistake or error. The city paid more than $440,000 in fees related to those type of voided citations during the audit period from July 2008 to June 2010.

Another finding was that the department missed out on revenue for many years because it failed to aggressively pursue collections from "protective plate holders" such as police officers, firefighters and social workers, among others.

The audit found that 30% of citations issued to protective plate holders from 2005 to 2010 had not been paid.

"Protective plates should not be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card," Greuel said.

Sedadi said he was reviewing the audit's findings and that the department had "already implemented many of the controller's recommendations and have taken management actions to address some of the findings."

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

Times staff writers Ann Simmons and Jean Merl contributed to this report.

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