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The DMV might not be the worst place in the world, after all

By making appointments online, Californians may be able to decrease their wait time at the DMV. Also, the Senate discusses bills on drones and fracking.

June 24, 2013|By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Motor Vehicles is a bureaucracy many motorists love to hate.

Just ask Yelp, the customer review website: "Quite literally the seventh circle of hell," wrote J.W. from Venice about the Hollywood office.

But, dozens of other Yelp reviews tell a quite different story. They gush over the convenience of making online appointmentsand getting a new license or car registration in minutes.

It even happened to this Times reporter: I arrived for an 8:40 a.m. appointment; got a number;, went to a window; had my paperwork perused, eyes tested, thumb print registered, photograph taken; paid $32; and was out the door in time to catch the 9 o'clock radio news.

The new license arrived in the mail four days later.

Yelp reviewer Michael K. of Hollywood had a similar experience: "Made an appointment as others suggested, and it was unbelievably quick and painless for the DMV!"

The key is getting people to do simple transactions — such as renewing registrations — on the Internet, said DMV spokesman Armando Botello. And, if they need to come to an office, letting them make an appointment.

"When you walk into a DMV office, the first thing you see is a long line and a very short line," he said. "Long-line people had no appointments."

Last year, about a quarter of customers had appointments, and they waited an average of seven minutes, according to the DMV. The average wait for those without an appointment: 46 minutes.

About 12 million people avoided going to the DMV altogether by using the Internet or calling (800) 777-0133.

Changes at the DMV have been dramatic, said Bill Parent, an expert in government innovation at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs.

"People think it's somewhere between hell and purgatory," he said, "but once you turn around and have a customer focus to that business, it's amazing what can be done."

Drone controls

California's skies could be filled with pilotless drone aircraft in the coming years, and that's prompting a lawmaker to limit their use.

A bill by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) soared through the Senate on a 38-1 tally and already has passed the Judiciary Committee in the Assembly without a dissenting vote.

"We need clear guidelines in place that protect Californians from surreptitious surveillance activities," Padilla said.

The bill, SB 15, contains civil penalties for invading privacy and criminal ones for eavesdropping or spying. Police would need a search warrant before dispatching a drone, and the aircraft could carry no weapons.

Fracking forecast

Environmental lobbyists' have all but struck out at trying to ban, restrict or regulate hydraulic fracking in California. This involves pumping chemicals, water and sand deep underground to release and extract more oil and gas from rock formations.

Of a dozen bills this year, only one significant proposal has survived business and oil company opposition: SB 4 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). It would require, among other things, disclosure to state regulators of any chemicals used in fracking.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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