A band of libertarian activists has descended on the New Hampshire town of Keene to defend liberty and defeat the tyranny of $5 parking tickets. But if they really want to break the bondage of parking citations, they ought to come west to Los Angeles, where such tickets cost $63 to $73.
The “Free Keene” movement is about more than parking tickets. Activists moved to the town to be part of a grass-roots effort to challenge government intrusion into peoples’ lives and promote free-market solutions. It just happens that their parking citation protests have garnered particular attention and the ire of city officials. As the New York Times reported, so-called Robin Hooders track by two-way radio the movement of the city’s two parking enforcement officers and feed expired meters before tickets can be written. The activists then leave a business card on the vehicle saying that “we saved you from the king’s tariff.”
The Robin Hooders can also be a bit aggressive, videotaping and goading the officers with comments like, “How do you live with yourself?” The city eventually sued the activists for allegedly harassing the officers, but a judge dismissed the case, citing the activists’ right to free speech.
By comparison, the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative is positively meek. The group, headed by Steven Vincent and Jay Beeber, has been working on a ballot initiative for the March 2015 city election that would lower some fines, clarify confusing parking signs, reform the ticket appeal process and give communities more say in setting local parking regulations. “We, the People of Los Angeles, need a parking system that helps us care for our families, conduct our daily affairs and run our businesses,” the group has declared on its website. “We are not cows on a dairy farm to be milked whenever the city has trouble making fiscal ends meet!”
Unlike the more radical folks in Keene, the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative is now partnering with the government oppressors. It has teamed up with Mayor Eric Garcetti to create an official working group on parking regulations, although it reserves the right to go to the ballot if compromise fails. (This comes after Garcetti was criticized for hiring 50 part-time parking enforcement officers, who will issue enough tickets to generate an additional $3 million in fines this coming year.)
Until now, I hadn’t shared the Parking Freedom Initiative’s zeal for change. Frankly, the cost of a parking ticket — $63 for parking at an expired meter and $73 for parking on street-sweeping day — didn’t seem excessive in comparison to other city and state fines. (Jaywalking, for example, can get you a $200 ticket. If you pay your California vehicle registration fee two weeks late, you could get hit with a roughly $45 or higher late fee.)
Parking violation penalties have to be high enough to ensure parking spot turnover in high-traffick areas and to serve as a powerful reminder not to break the rules again. Clearly, the $5 citations issued in Keene would not change behavior in Los Angeles. It’d be cheaper to get a ticket for stopping at an expired meter than paying for a spot in a garage. But maybe L.A.’s $63 to $73 fines are too high, and the opaque ticket appeal process can seem a bit despotic.
Perhaps if Vincent and Beeber can’t get traction for parking reform with the mayor’s working group, they could get some help from the libertarians in New Hampshire. They could start a “Free Los Angeles” movement with bands of Robin Hooders traveling the city feeding meters. Just leave the video cameras in Keene.