There is only one type of Los Angeles City worker who can inspire rage, obscenities and complete exhaustion in residents. People despise them more than the cops and avoid them like the intersection of Hollywood and Highland on a Friday night.
They are the meter maids, nowadays known as parking enforcement officers.
Heroes have emerged to take on the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau and propose slashing parking tickets to $23, and the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have made noises about adopting more rational rules and fines, and more understandable street parking signs and meters.
Jay Beeber, the folk hero who convinced the City Council to get rid of L.A.'s despised and ineffective $465 red-light camera tickets, next year will run for the City Council District 4 seat. This year he helped launch the Parking Reform Working Group, a Garcetti-sanctioned effort to reform the Parking Violations Bureau, its ticketing and regulations.
But parking reform under Garcetti appears to be stalled. The Parking Reform Working Group was cut out of the loop for weeks recently, with its members telling L.A. Weekly they were not warned when Garcetti's transportation overseers signed a new, five-year contract with Xerox to run the parking-ticket system.
Xerox's practices are a key source of public fury. Not only does the city's General Fund get a boatload of money off parking citations — $160 million in 2013 alone — but so does a Xerox company called Affiliated Computer Services (ACS).
ACS oversees the ticketing process, collects the fines and makes money off every ticket, more if the ticket gets to collections. The firm is widely reviled for its incredibly complex ticket-appeals process.
The Parking Reform Working Group asked city officials to delay signing another contract with Xerox until Garcetti and other policymakers reviewed its proposals, in order to give the working group time to determine whether Xerox was willing to go along with the reform plans, Beeber wrote in an email to the Weekly.
Barry Weiss, a real estate agent and member of the working group — made up of a few dozen residents, Department of Transportation (LADOT) officials and others — says the group proposed dramatic changes in a report to Garcetti around Labor Day, such as cutting parking ticket fees from the typical $63 to $23 (the average hourly wage of an Angeleno) and allowing parking at meters for more than two hours.
They never heard back from Garcetti. His office insists it got the recommendations in mid-September. “Since we haven't had feedback from the mayor's office, it causes us to think, 'What do they think?'?'' Weiss says. The mayor's aides are fuzzy on details of when his office distributed the group's reform ideas to officials involved. “At least one person received it in early October,” a Garcetti aide assured the Weekly.
And that's a problem, because while the Parking Reform Working Group was waiting to hear from Garcetti, the city went ahead and inked the Xerox deal anyway. The five-year deal was approved by the City Council a year ago and signed this year on Sept. 26, according to LADOT spokesman Bruce Gillman.
“The contract with Xerox has been executed, but the city reserves the right to amend the contract when any new parking-related policies are adopted,” Garcetti spokeswoman Vicki Curry told the Weekly.
But the Parking Reform Working Group's ideas are not ones that Xerox is likely to welcome. Among other things, the group wants Garcetti to switch to a system that begins with a warning and then moves to a graduated parking fine, which gives first-time offenders some leniency but charges more if you rack up offenses.
Not only might this reform reduce Xerox's revenue but it would require adjustments to the handheld devices meter maids use to record a car's license plate and the offense. They'd need to be able to search the ticket database and find out if the car was a repeat offender, Beeber says.
“Xerox claimed that their software and the citation database they maintain for the city was unable to do this,” Beeber writes, “although it is being done in other cities using the same handheld devices L.A. uses,” with different software inside.
Critics say L.A. drivers shouldn't be used as ATMs to offset city budget shortfalls. In general, the city uses parking “simply as a revenue mechanism,” Beeber says.
Beeber concedes that the working group has “lost some momentum, to be perfectly honest.” He attributes this in part to his departure from the group in order to run for City Council — but also to Garcetti's failure for weeks to send the group's ideas to key city officials for input and eventual action.
Now, Deputy Mayor Rick Cole is slated to meet this week with the Parking Reform Working Group at City Hall.
But for the foreseeable future, L.A. drivers will be subject to Xerox. Not only did Xerox get a new contract but a judge ruled in August against granting class-action status to a group of L.A. drivers who sued the Parking Violations Bureau and Xerox.
The class-action lawsuit effort was launched by actor Jeff Galfer, who became a parking activist after moving here in 2008. Galfer got a slew of parking tickets, some legit, some not, but the ticket that pushed him over the edge was one he challenged. Galfer wasted months fighting parking bureaucrats, then paid his ticket.
But the inefficient system efficiently responded by putting a hold on his DMV registration, even though he paid the ticket.
After leaving a voicemail full of rage for the Parking Violations Bureau, Galfer sued L.A. and Xerox. He thought that with the hordes of other angry Angelenos, he'd have a slam-dunk class-action case.
But after about two years of legal proceedings, Judge S. James Otero of the federal Central District of California denied class-action status to the case.
Galfer says his uphill battle against L.A. parking policies may be nearing an end.
“I have attempted for the past 3½ years to do something about it, and I'm now realizing we're dead in the water,” says Galfer, whose online petition got 2,500-plus signatures (although he'd hoped for 50,000).
But Galfer's lawyer, Damion Robinson, is moving forward with a single lawsuit against L.A., which includes six plaintiffs.
“We're confident that we can prove that the parking-ticket appeals process violates due process and state law, and look forward to vindicating these rights in court,” Robinson told the Weekly via email.
Under former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, parking fines skyrocketed. The reviled street-sweeping ticket rose by about 60 percent, for instance.
Garcetti has tried to help people avoid street-sweeping tickets via a website that informs drivers of “relaxed” parking zones, where the street sweeper is canceled and drivers can park without fearing a ticket.
But last week a CBS2 investigation discovered that L.A. meter maids are still issuing tickets, ignoring the “relaxed” policy. Garcetti ordered LADOT to review street-sweeping violations and refund any drivers wrongly ticketed.
Giving money back? Now that's a parking system we can all agree on.