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California's DMV isn't making sure people who have disabled parking permits should actually have them

An undercover DMV officer waits with a shopping cart next to a disabled parking spot while conducting an enforcement sweep of fraudulent use of disabled parking placards at the Glendale Galleria. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
An undercover DMV officer waits with a shopping cart next to a disabled parking spot while conducting an enforcement sweep of fraudulent use of disabled parking placards at the Glendale Galleria. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The California Department of Motor Vehicles isn't making sure that people issued placards for disabled parking should actually have them, a state audit released Tuesday found.

Among other problems, the audit found the agency hasn't canceled tens of thousands of the permits issued to people who have died, which has allowed some placards to be misused by their heirs.

The state has 2.9 million placards and disabled license plates in service that are meant to allow motorists with medical disabilities to park in disabled parking spots and curbside in metered spots for free and beyond time restrictions.

“DMV does not sufficiently ensure that applications for placards or plates are legitimate,” auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature. 

Auditors looked at a sample of 96 approved placard applications and found 70 that “did not include sufficient medical information to demonstrate that the applicant qualified.” If that trend holds, it means the DMV may have approved 1.1 million applications from July 2013 through June 2016 without sufficient information to demonstrate that the applicant was qualified, the audit concluded.

Auditors questioned whether signatures of physicians on several applications matched information on file with the state and found the DMV does not work with health boards to review applications, as it is required to do.

Auditors also checked the name and date of birth of active placard holders against the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, and identified nearly 35,000 matches. As of last June, they found nearly 26,000 placard holders were over 100 years old, even though the estimated centenarian population of California is only about 8,000.

In addition, some permanent placard holders have requested “an unusually high number of replacements for lost or stolen placards” and state law does not limit the number of replacements a holder may receive, she said. That means some placard holders might be giving extra placards to friends or family.

Although local sting investigations found about 15% of disabled parking placards are being misused, Howle said some local motor vehicle offices have less enforcement than others.

Auditors said there is no standard for how many sting operations each district office should conduct, so some do many more than others.

“By not establishing reasonable goals to conduct regular sting operations, DMV fails to detect and deter as much of the continued placard misuse as it can,” Howle wrote in the letter.

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto was given an advance look at the audit and has begun making improvements.

“We agree with the recommendations and are pleased to report that we have begun implementing the recommendations,” she wrote as part of the audit report.

The review was requested by former Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto.

“The audit showed a program that is even more rife with abuse than anyone could have conceived,” Gatto said Tuesday.

UPDATE

10:07 a.m.: Updated to to include comment from Mike Gatto.

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