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Bernardi Calls Proposals on Junked Cars Wishy-Washy

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Times Staff Writer

After studying the problem for three months, a task force has recommended a number of ways to help clear Los Angeles streets of abandoned vehicles. But a city councilman responsible for forming the group called the suggestions “wishy-washy.”

The task force of about 50 members--including city and state government officials, private tow operators and automobile dismantlers--submitted recommendations to City Council that the group hopes will make it easier to legally dispose of junked cars and also reduce a backlog of complaints about abandoned vehicles cluttering city streets, particularly in the San Fernando Valley.

“Abandoned vehicles won’t go away, but this will hopefully speed up the process by which we can get them off the streets,” said Ronald F. Deaton, the city’s assistant chief legislative analyst, whose office coordinated the task force activities.

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However, Councilman Ernani Bernardi, whose district includes Sunland, Pacoima and other northeastern Valley areas plagued by unwanted cars left along roadsides, complained that the task force did not go far enough.

“I think the task force report is wishy-washy,” said Bernardi, who proposed formation of the group with Councilman Joel Wachs. “It doesn’t hit the thing right on the nose.”

25,000 Vehicles Annually

Citywide about 25,000 abandoned vehicles are picked up each year, with the largest number of them coming from the San Fernando Valley, according to Ted Mirkov, chief of parking enforcement operations. For the month of December, 682 abandoned vehicles in the Valley were impounded, contrasted with 221 in West Los Angeles, 149 in central Los Angeles and 403 in the Wilmington and San Pedro areas, he said.

“The Valley is getting the brunt of the problem,” said Greg Jackson, an aide to Bernardi who works in the councilman’s Sylmar field office. He said, in the northeastern areas, where there are a number of junkyards and dismantling facilities, owners sometimes dump off unwanted cars on the streets near the salvage yards.

“We also have more semi-rural areas that are not highly visible and policed where people can drop an auto without being seen,” Jackson said.

In its 11-page report forwarded to the City Council last week, the task force attempted to outline reasons why abandoned vehicles have become a growing problem.

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Most unwanted cars are thought to be dumped not by car thieves but by people who cannot or will not get rid of their old cars legally, the task force said. But other conditions have recently arisen to disrupt the orderly flow of vehicles through the dismantling, scrapping and shredding process, including a dramatic drop in scrap-metal prices to one of their lowest levels in years, according to the report.

Storage Space Shrinks

Because of low prices, scrap metal dealers and dismantlers have been processing fewer vehicles, causing cars to back up throughout the entire disposal system and creating a shortage of storage space.

Also, the task force noted, to sell a car to a junk dealer a person must first get a certificate from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Since the DMV first requires the payment of past-due registration fees and penalties, it is believed that many vehicles have been abandoned on the streets because those fees and penalties exceed the salvage value of the vehicle.

Among its recommendations, the task force suggested that Los Angeles officials push for changes in the California Motor Vehicle Code that would waive fees and penalties on vehicles to be dismantled and junked.

The task force estimated that the Department of Transportation receives hundreds of complaints a day about abandoned vehicles parked in front of homes and businesses. Only 21% of those complaints lead to impounded vehicles. There are 48 traffic officers assigned to investigate the complaints, and it can take several weeks before vehicles are marked to be towed.

‘They Reappear’

“We need to use all the tools available to us to get these things off the street,” said Robert Yates, the city parking administrator, who was a member of the task force. “As fast as we pick them up, they reappear on the street.”

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The task force recommended that parking enforcement officers, street maintenance crews and tow operators perform “sweeps” of problem areas to remove abandoned vehicles. It also said the city should consider installing a 24-hour hot line to field reports of junked cars.

A task force member, Joe Merdler, attorney for the Valley Auto Dismantlers Assn., said that, whether or not the recommendations are implemented by City Council, formation of the group already has had a positive effect.

“We opened avenues of communication between city officials, shredders, the state and the auto dismantlers,” he said.

Wachs, who stood among several abandoned cars on a dead-end street in his Sun Valley district last October when he proposed formation of the task force, last week termed the group’s work “a good beginning.”

Wachs said the task force established a good relationship between government and the private sector and should continue to meet.

Wants Immediate Action

But Bernardi was less than satisfied with the outcome. The councilman said he believes that the task force made good recommendations for long-term solutions, such as better coordination among the city agencies involved. But, Bernardi insisted, “what we need is some means right now of taking care of the problem.”

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Last week, Bernardi suggested that the city consider using Lopez Canyon Landfill above Lake View Terrace as a temporary storage lot for abandoned cars. He also said the city should consider increasing the number of garages officially designated by the city to tow vehicles. There are now 16 such garages in the city.

Because the problem is so critical, he said, he had hoped that the task force would recommend consolidating all responsibilities for abatement of abandoned vehicles under one agency, rather than having the duties split among the city’s Police Department, Transportation Department and Street Maintenance Bureau.

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