When a West Los Angeles couple returned from a five-day vacation in September, they discovered that their car had been towed from a residential street near their home. Had they flouted some posted parking regulation? No, they had violated a decades-old L.A. municipal ordinance they had never heard of that prohibits parking a vehicle on the street in the same spot for more than 72 hours. The couple have filed suit against the city, arguing that it violated their right to due process because there is no signage about the 72-hour limit.
The city's attorneys noted in their brief that "ignorance of the law is no defense" — even as they acknowledged that a sign "would have been a useful reminder." They're right that people should know the basic citywide rules of the road. There's no need to post signs telling drivers not to park next to fire hydrants or red curbs. Is it really necessary to post the 72-hour rule on every block in the city, adding to the already tottering totem poles of signs on many city streets?
On the other hand, perhaps the three-day rule is tougher than necessary. It is designed, city officials say, to rid the city of vehicles that are stored or abandoned on the street, sometimes in debilitated, unsightly condition. It's not intended to snare residents without garages who scramble to find street parking or people who leave town for a week. Nor should it be used as a dragnet for rousting homeless people living in their vehicles. (Last year, a federal appeals court struck down the city's ban on homeless people living in their cars.)
Currently, a parking enforcement officer will check on a vehicle only in response to a complaint. The officer returns 72 hours later, and if the car has not been moved, the officer leaves a citation (including a fine) on the car, warning that it must be moved within 24 hours or be subject to towing. According to a report for the City Council by the city's Department of Transportation, the department received 71,671 complaints about vehicles being stored or abandoned on the streets last year. It ultimately towed only 4,539 cars. In other words, most cars were moved.
So why not extend the 72-hour time limit to five days or a week — and then give the violator a citation warning that the vehicle must be moved within several days or it will be towed? A truly abandoned car will still be there for the tow truck. And car owners who went out of town for a week will be back in time to move it.