A grass-roots group of Angelenos wants to revamp the way Los Angeles collects money from parking tickets — and has pledged to take its campaign to the ballot box if the city doesn't embrace change.
The Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative wants to cap fines at $23 for violations that don't affect public safety. Its list of proposed changes also includes giving neighborhoods a way to help shape local regulations and fees and having parking ticket money funneled into a separate fund instead of the general city budget.
Many Los Angeles parking tickets are much more costly than the proposed cap. The average ticket stands at $68, $45.50 of which goes to the general fund to pay for basic city services, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
Members of the group complain that Los Angeles has banked on parking tickets as a way to weather its budget problems. Money reaped from tickets has grown from nearly $110 million in 2003 to roughly $161 million this year, according to the mayor's budget.
"When the city budget says that the parking violations office is supposed to collect $160 million, it's a de facto quota," said Steven Vincent, a Studio City financial market analyst who founded the Parking Freedom Initiative. "They have to go out there and get that money one way or another."
Critics argue that many of the fines fall especially hard on the poor, particularly in dense neighborhoods with scarce parking. The Coalition for Economic Survival, a community organizing group that isn't affiliated with the parking ticket campaign, has repeatedly raised concerns about street-sweeping fines, which now stand at $73 for parking in a prohibited area.
"Someone who lives in Woodland Hills or Canoga Park and is a homeowner is not going to be impacted," said Larry Gross, the coalition's executive director. In Westlake or Pico-Union, "a minimum-wage worker can end up getting a ticket that's larger than a day's pay.... We shouldn't be raising most of the revenue on the backs of those who can least afford to pay it."
Scarce parking and steep fines have also left some business owners griping. "It's probably knocked our business down by 15%," said Susan Polifronio, co-owner of Counterpoint Records and Books on Franklin Avenue. "People say, 'I will not come in unless I find space in front.' "
Vincent said his group's plan would cap parking tickets that do not involve public safety, such as at an expired meter or in areas slated for street cleaning. The proposed cap is pegged at the median hourly wage for the L.A. metropolitan area, which now stands at $23, according to Vincent. Tickets that involve public safety, such as parking in front of a fire hydrant or in a handicapped space, would be unchanged, he said.
The proposed Special Parking Revenue Fund would be spent on "transportation infrastructure," including sidewalk repairs, parking and street signage, electric vehicle charging stations and other improvements that relieve "parking bottlenecks," according to the group. Money could be transferred out of the fund only in emergency situations.
City financial officials did not provide an estimate Thursday of how much revenue would be lost if tickets were reduced from current levels. Vincent argued that the plan would not cost the city, despite the reduction in parking fines, because the ticket money would be invested in ways that could boost city revenue from taxes and fees.
For instance, Vincent said the city could strategically build parking facilities that would reap more revenue for the city and encourage more shoppers to visit businesses nearby. The plan would also allow the sale of bonds to cushion the lost revenue when tickets were initially reduced.
Earlier this year, the Parking Freedom Initiative announced it was teaming with Mayor Eric Garcetti to examine possible changes through an official city working group, which met for the first time Thursday at City Hall. Members of the working group included Los Angeles neighborhood council members, urban planners and business owners such as Polifronio.
Parking policy is "very archaic," said working group member Mott Smith, principal of an L.A. planning and development firm. "It's kind of low-hanging fruit for the mayor's office to really lead with some innovation."
Garcetti, who visited the working group Thursday, is still reviewing the cap proposal and will weigh any other ideas that come from the group, his spokeswoman Vicki Curry said. It plans to return with ideas for short-term solutions within a few months, and more enduring changes a few months after that, said Jay Beeber of the Parking Freedom Initiative.
Beeber and Vincent were hopeful that the process would steer Los Angeles in the right direction, praising Garcetti for his openness. But if the city does not take sufficient steps toward change, the activists say they could still place their proposed reforms before voters next March.
"We're not looking to stick it to the city — although there's certainly a lot of angry people out there," Vincent said. "We just want to solve the problem."