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New low for L.A.: Ticketing cars at broken parking meters

April 24, 2013|By Robin Abcarian

What gets me mad about driving in Los Angeles?

Traffic, of course. That’s a given. The many public officials who have done nothing or obstructed efforts to improve it deserve to spend a few years of their lives immobilized at dusk on the eastbound side of the Santa Monica Freeway.

But what gets my blood boiling? Getting a ticket for parking at a broken meter.

How dare they charge us because they can’t accept our money?

Exhibit A: On the north side of the Marina del Rey Channel, at the bottom of Pacific Avenue, each old-fashioned meter has a bright blue-and-white sign stuck on its pole: “Parking at a jammed meter may result in a parking citation.”

If a meter is broken, it should be repaired or replaced with something better, not used as an opportunity to squeeze an already squeezed populace.

For many decades, if a parking meter was jammed or busted, you felt like you’d gotten an unexpected two-bit windfall. Free parking. Woo-hoo!

But in 2010, the Los Angeles City Council approved ticketing cars at broken meters. In 2012, the council reaffirmed its position. (The Marina meters are on county property;  our supervisors are on the same annoying page as our councilmembers.)

Thankfully, someone in power is paying attention.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Silver Lake recently proposed a law, AB61, that would make it illegal for cities and counties to ticket at broken or jammed meters.

“I thought it was time for the state to step in and pass a uniform law, to state a more fair policy,” Gatto told me Tuesday.

“From 1935, the dawn of the parking meter, to 2012, it was always permissible for motorists to park at meter that was malfunctioning,” Gatto said. “The simple fact is that if a city or county failed to repair a broken meter, or something happened like the power was cut, it was not the motorist’s fault. The logic of that is unassailable. We pay for the maintenance of the streets, the installation of the meters, the salary of the individual who patrols them. It’s a double penalty to give tickets when they are broken.”

Opinions vary on how many meters are broken in Los Angeles at any given time. Increasingly, cities including this one are installing high-tech meters or numbered spaces governed by bigger, nearly tamper-proof kiosks. But Gatto, who often shops in downtown Los Angeles, said in his experience, 10% to 20% of meters are broken at any time. That forces people into expensive pay lots.

“I am never one to make an allegation against a fellow elected official,” Gatto said, “but those costly parking lots have strong, let’s say, lobbying presence, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Gatto, who penned an op-ed on this topic for the Downtown News  last month, also noted the cost of jammed machines is already built into the actuarial calculations that govern meter rates.

So far, he said, he’s got nothing but praise from the public on this bill. “Whether you are an intellectual, or a gal or guy on street, you have an inherent BS detector and know what is right and what is fair,” he told me. “The statute in L.A. violates that sense of fairness.”

Next week, the bill gets its first legislative test before the Assembly Committee on Transportation. He expects cities using the practice to squeeze their residents will put up some howls.

His response to them will be straightforward: “If a city is going to say, ‘Gee, we are going to lose 10 million bucks because 20% of our meters are malfunctioning at any given time,' the response is: ‘Fix the meters.’ ”


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Twitter: @robinabcarian


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