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LA considering lower parking ticket fines, community service option for homeless

Expanding variable-rate meters is among the proposals from a citizens panel convened to suggest ways to make Los Angeles parking more equitable.
Expanding variable-rate meters is among the proposals from a citizens panel convened to suggest ways to make Los Angeles parking more equitable.
Matthew Ragan/Flickr Creative Commons

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Los Angeles city officials are weighing reduced parking fines for some tickets and offering homeless and low-income people the option of working off the penalties through community service.

The proposal is part of a package of parking reforms offered by a citizen panel convened by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and charged with suggesting ideas that would make parking more equitable in the city.

"We want to show people that government is on their side and not on their back," said Councilman Mike Bonin, chairman of the council transportation committee that discussed the issue Wednesday, repeating what he's stated before during the council's months-long deliberations over the proposals.

The committee heard a report from the L.A. Department of Transportation on various options for changing parking ticket fines. They include dropping the fines for expired meters and street sweeping violations by $10. Together, the meter and street-sweeping violations make up about half of all parking citations issued. Currently fines for expired meters are $63 in L.A. while tickets for street sweeping are $73.

The lower fines would place Los Angeles in line with neighboring cities like Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Pasadena.

Officials estimate the $10 reduction would cost the city up to $12.5 million in lower fine collections a year, but Councilman David Ryu said revenues should not be the guiding factor in establishing parking policy.

"Let's come up with a fair system and then worry about exactly what revenue that's going to bring in," he said. Doing so will build the public's confidence that the council is trying to come up with a system that works, Ryu said.

The council members also are considering a proposal to allow the homeless and low-income individuals to perform community service instead of paying fines. The citizen panel suggested those populations may be particularly hard hit by parking penalties.

The citizens panel further called for expanding variable-rate parking meters. The meters charge more during peak hours to manage demand for spaces and then drop to cheaper rates when traffic is lighter.

Another proposal calls for a tiered parking fine structure. First-time offenders would be charged a nominal fee of around $20 for a violation and fines would increase as drivers are handed more citations within a year.

City transportation officials oppose the tiered parking fines suggested by the citizens panel, noting that only about 13 percent of those issued citations in a given year violate parking regulations repeatedly. 

Officials argued the low figure shows that a tiered structure isn't necessary since most offenders only receive a single citation. They said the higher fines for repeat violations could disproportionately affect low-income people.

Given the high number of citations — 2.6 million citations are issued in about a year —officials said even the current fines are not enough of a deterrent and should not be lowered.

Jay Beeber, who headed the citizen parking panel, argued that its full package of proposed reforms work together to deter violations. He said the low rate of repeat violations shows that most tickets are accidents and not based on whether fines act as a deterrent.

The transportation department will continue to study ways to implement the citizen panel's ideas and will report back to the City Council.

A proposal to change the way street sweeping violations are given out was continued to the next transportation committee meeting.