Victory in City Hall, Though Battle Still Rages in the Streets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

I whipped City Hall the other day. Brought the place to its knees. Sent a rumble through the hallowed halls of automobile justice.

I beat a parking ticket.

Now, I am not gloating over this. It's just nice to know there is retribution for the anger that permeates your craw when you return to your car and find that pink-and-yellow insult flapping from your windshield wiper.

Especially when you are innocent.

I live in Sherman Oaks, where parking is so scarce, parents pass on spots to children in their wills. Every commercial parking lot has a uniformed parking goon who informs drivers they can't park there for this or that, but only for such and so forth.

They want documents--passports, green cards, birth certificates of your first-born child--all to park in your neighborhood grocery store parking lot!

Spare me.

My neighborhood is particularly bad. One block south of Ventura Boulevard, there used to be so much restaurant parking on our residential street that my neighbors petitioned for super-restrictive ordinances.

That means that parking is limited to two hours during the day and banned after 6 p.m.--unless you've got one of those special resident passes. It also means those little parking enforcement cars patrol my street like vultures hovering for bloody road kills.

Now, I park in my driveway. But try having a few friends over or, God forbid, throw a party. For this, you have to go to the city and buy one-day passes at a buck a shot.

Absolute insanity.

But the local restaurants have found a way to get around all this. During the lunchtime rush hour, a few eateries park cars on my street anyway. They have arrogant valet parking studs who use stopwatches to wring the maximum from the two-hour limit. They block my driveway and knock over my trash cans to park more cars.

It's a nightmare during the day. At night, it's worse.

So, you can imagine my anger when, one day after I moved in, my wife got a $30 ticket for parking in front of our own house. The landlord had said nothing about restrictive ordinances. I concede I didn't read the signs.

Even for an impecunious reporter, 30 clams was certainly not going to break my bank, but I was mad and wasn't going to take it anymore. I declared war on the jackals.

Following instructions, I wrote a letter to a local judge handling such matters, explaining the situation, playing my violin. I was new to the neighborhood, I explained. How could I have known?

Of course, I had to send a check for the amount of the ticket (immediately cashed) to cover the fine while the judge pondered.

I fought the law. And I won.

Weeks later, I received a $30 refund.

On July 1, however, unbeknownst to me and thousands of other potential parking scofflaws, the state changed its rules, moving parking ticket appeals out of an overburdened court system to a newly established review board.

A motorist who wants to appeal a ticket now submits a form available at local parking enforcement offices. The board renders its decision within 15 days, and motorists can still appeal that ruling to the courts.

Mary Moss, supervisor for the Valley parking enforcement office, said the new system has taken the strain off her 87 parking officers. Under the old system, at least 10 officers a day were called to court to testify. Now the board checks their written notes against the motorist's appeal.

Still, Moss says, a parking officer's life is anything but rosy.

Consider the volume: In the first three weeks of September alone, officers wrote 25,511 tickets in the Valley. Citywide, more than 3.7 million were issued during 1992. Of those, 309,616 were contested through the courts. The judges upheld only 55% of them, which may sound hopeful but it also means that many motorists know their chances of beating a ticket are less than 50-50. And that makes them mad from the get-go.

Officers writing tickets have been punched and bitten. They have had everything from eggs to rocks and bottles thrown at them. "You could write a whole new dictionary on the dirty words we've heard," Moss says.

"But I tell my people not to take it to heart. Most people are more angry at themselves. . . . Still, the times are hard and we're hitting people in their pocketbooks. It's an unfortunate thing.

"If we weren't there, though, what would the parking situation be like? You'd never be able to find a spot."

Like a schoolteacher and homework excuses, Moss says she has heard every tale possible from ticketees.

Some have argued that the parking officer was rude and therefore the ticket should be void. Or they went into the store to get change to feed the meter. Or they flatly deny the handicapped spot was there, arguing that the city only painted it in after they were issued their ticket.

Here's one I personally hope is a new one: How about if a motorist put his quarter in the wrong meter?

That's right. In a metered parking lot behind Ventura Boulevard, I mistakenly fed the meter for the next space, which cost me $20.

But I am testing the city's new system. Emboldened by my victory last time out, I have made my case and am awaiting word from the new parking adjudication board.

So, I've got my fingers crossed.

Hey! Gotta go! I think my meter is about to run out.

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