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Can't find a parking space? Audit shows DMV not regulating disabled parking placards

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

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Assemblyman Mike Gatto at a parking meter in Toluca Lake on Thursday, January 21, 2016. John Rabe

Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with former California State Assemblymember Mike Gatto about a damning new audit from the California State Auditor's Office on the DMV's oversight of disabled parking placards.

"I was actually threatened by certain members of the community who said, 'We're gonna go up there, and we're gonna make a big public spectacle, and we're gonna make it look like you're picking on disabled people." -- Mike Gatto

There are about 26m registered drivers in California. There are about 3m handicapped placards out there that give the owners free, priority parking. That's more than 1 out of every 10 drivers. That can't be right. But according to a new audit, the DMV barely checks applications or enforces its own rules.


-- DMV does not sufficiently ensure applications for disabled person parking placards (placards) and disabled person or disabled veteran license plates (plates) are legitimate.

-- Out of 96 applications we sampled, DMV approved 70 applications that did not include sufficient medical information to demonstrate that the applicant qualified.

-- DMV approved applications that contained certifications of disabilities by unauthorized medical providers.

-- DMV does not ensure the validity of medical provider signatures.

-- State law provides no limits on the number of replacement placards a person may receive.

-- DMV has not established specific expectations to conduct regular sting operations for its district offices.

-- Local parking enforcement lacks immediate access to DMV’s placard information, limiting its ability to verify placards during enforcement activities.

                -- California State Auditor's Office, April 18, 2017

Could it get any worse? Yes! According to the audit, nearly 26,000 people on the placard list were over 100. That's nice; they deserve some help in parking. But: there are only 5,000 centenarians in the entire state.

Read the California State Auditor's full audit

The audit recommends lawmakers force the DMV to involve health boards in quarterly reviews of placards and plates, and to use federal death lists to root-out dead placard holders; and the DMV should set goals for stings and get local parking enforcement officers access to its placard database. 

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto told the LA Times, “We agree with the recommendations and are pleased to report that we have begun implementing the recommendations.” But you have to ask why the DMV hadn't already made changes. NBC4 reported basically the exact same problems in a 2010 investigation.  That's 7 years ago.

"It’s in total disregard of the intent of what that placard is for," says DMV Chief Vito Scattaglia, after watching NBCLA's undercover video of the drivers using other people's placards.

NBCLA asked the DMV's Scattaglia, "Is this one of the most blatant examples of fraud you’ve seen?”

"Yes," replied the DMV Chief.

                -- "No Place to Park"/NBC 4, 2010

The audit was requested last summer by then-Assemblymember Mike Gatto, who said he knew something was fishy when, "We would walk down certain streets in downtown LA - not near any hospital or anything like that where you'd expect an influx of disabled persons - and mysteriously, every single car on that street would have a disabled placard."

So he asked for the audit, but not before trying to fix the problem as a lawmaker: "I introduced legislation to fix it, but I was actually threatened by certain members of the community who said 'We're gonna go up there, and we're gonna make a big public spectacle, and we're gonna make it look like you're picking on disabled people." 

As he points out, placard abuse actually hurts disabled people - and the rest of us - who are engaged in the eternal struggle for a parking space.

Listen to our entire interview - conducted on a sidewalk in LA's Thai Town -- by using the handy audio player. And tell Mike Gatto your placard abuse stories @mikegatto ‏on Twitter.

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