You return to your car to a disgusting sight: a rectangular slip of paper tucked under your wiper, which could cost you $63, $68, $93 or more — and double that if you pay late. In fiscal year 2007-08, parking citations in L.A. generated about $128 million, and by 2011-12 the total take for the city was $153 million from about 2.65 million tickets.
That's a ticket for roughly every driver in this city of 4 million.
Last August, having already jacked up towing with a special $100 "release fee" purely to boost city revenue, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa boosted all parking fines by $5 and disabled parking–related fines by $10.
Now, angry drivers are questioning the accuracy and fairness of the powerful Parking Violations Bureau, which both enforces and then adjudicates its own rules for its growing mountain of revenue.
"Mistakes happen, but there's a whole systematic, intentional design to make it difficult to fight," says Kenneth Larson, of the West San Fernando Valley.
Larson launched the Stop Los Angeles Parking Enforcement Corruption website (slapec.org) when he was hit with a ticket after a bumbling city crew installed a street-cleaning restrictions sign — with the wrong days and times on it. Believing the sign and parking there on a legal day, he got a costly ticket.
After Larson presented the city a photo of the screwy sign, he says, a city crew replaced the sign — yet the Parking Violations Bureau enforced his citation, accusing him, he says, of photographing the incorrect sign before he got his ticket.
After Larson demanded a "field investigation," the Parking Violations Bureau sent him a letter telling him he could take his beef to L.A. Superior Court in Van Nuys — where a judge ruled in his favor. That's when the next incredible thing happened: A high-up bureaucrat in the Parking Violations Bureau told Larson he still had to pay the citation.
Larson has "received hundreds of letters from people with similar complaints" via his website. "Most of the people I hear about haven't gone to court yet. I always tell people to pay the ticket promptly — and send it certified or registered."
They include a baffled person in New Mexico, who never owned a car in California; a guy in Monterey, who got two tickets from Los Angeles yet has never been here; and a U.S. Navy sailor stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, whose car was parked at a base in Fresno when he was ticketed by the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau.
One man's car was in San Diego the day a ticket was written against it in L.A.
"His boss wrote a letter saying that the guy was down there all day," Larson says. "And this testimony was thrown out by a [bureau] hearing examiner — because the [boss's] driver's license number wasn't on the letter."
"Everyone in the world has a telephone that takes a picture," Larson says. "Why isn't the [Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau] required to take a picture of your car when they see it parked illegally?"
That would be especially nice if it is going to order that the vehicle be towed.
"I had picked a spot to park that I always use, that's safe," Robin Roberts, a corporate entertainer from North Hollywood, says of her parking nightmare. "The street was all rough because they were working on the blacktop, but there were no signs that said 'No Parking.' I'd checked."
When her car vanished overnight, it required detective work even to find out where it was. She had to pay more than $260 for the tow, plus $73 for a ticket.
"I found a 'No Parking' sign a block away facing the other direction," she says. She snapped a photo of it "with perspective, so that you could tell how far it was — and at the wrong angle from my car."
But remember, the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau is both rule maker and rule enforcer.
Roberts' hearing examiner behaved reasonably but showed her a cellphone picture taken by the ticketing officer. That photo depicted a temporary "No Parking" sign right in front of Roberts' car.
Yet it wasn't there when Roberts carefully chose her spot, then parked. She says that can only mean a city worker put the sign up next to her car, then took a photo.
What to do when the city of Los Angeles is the cheater?
"I told her it wasn't there when I parked," Roberts declares. "But the cop's evidence trumped mine. I can't believe that that hearing examiner didn't believe me. But what is she supposed to say, that the police and the parking department are corrupt?"
Mona Aguilar's story is even more painful. The Boyle Heights restaurant worker was warned by a meter maid that her partially disabled, parked car had to be moved within 72 hours.
She says she was told, personally, by the ticketing officer that she had until Monday to move it. She made preparations to do so but discovered early Monday that her car was gone — it had been towed on Sunday.
She "couldn't take it to the mechanic" earlier than Monday "because they need the space for storage themselves."
For this minor wrongdoing on her part, Aguilar lost her car — pink slip and all. She had to hand over her car title and $117 to the towing company to pay onerous towing and storage charges, "around $2,000 at that point to get my car back," she says.
Jeff Galfer, an Atwater Village actor, who maintains the site nomoretickets.org, has sued top city officials in a class action lawsuit, and has launched an online petition against ticket abuse by the city.
He and a few citizens represented by Van Vleck Turner & Zaller have qualified to bring a class action lawsuit in federal court against the city and L.A. Department of Transportation manager Jaime de la Vega, executive officer Robert Andalon and senior management Analyst Wayne Garcia. The suit also names the city's ticket-handling contractor, Xerox State & Local Solutions Inc.
Among other things, the class action suit alleges failure to provide notice of citations or the results of initial reviews and mishandling the administrative hearing process. It accuses Xerox State & Local Solutions of acting as a government agency.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"I think that the parking situation has gone far beyond parking regulations," says Galfer. "It's transformed into a parking tax — and that's not something the people of Los Angeles have agreed to."
Andalon, one of the city bureaucrats named in the lawsuit, emailed the following response to L.A. Weekly: "Mistakes issuing citations can happen and the adjudication process ensures that citizens have multiple opportunities to contest the citation. Adjudicators review all of the facts presented and either uphold the citation or dismiss the citation" based on existing codes.
If only the reality were as tidy as that.
"One parking ticket is an entire day's wages for a minimum-wage employee," Galfer declares, "and now he's got to try to fight it. He's gotta pay $160 just to go down to City Hall, and he's missed another day of work. The name of my site, nomoretickets, is a bit of hyperbole. We just want the tickets to be fair."