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Welfare Clients Fleeced by City Parking Fines : The county’s busiest Social Services office serves 96,000 aid recipients but offers no off-street spaces for their cars. These unfortunates deserve a break.

<i> Gloria Greco is a free-lance writer who lives in Van Nuys. </i>

Everyone hates to get a parking ticket, even when it’s justified, as most are. But something seems wrong when tickets regularly adorn almost every car on a particular block. Can all these people be so remiss?

No, not really. There is an irritating story behind the daily flock of pink tickets that I see driving in Panorama City. It’s not about scofflaws; it’s about poor planning by the county government and citations that generate lots of money for the city.

The block is on Lanark Street near the county Social Services building. This is the busiest welfare office in Los Angeles County, serving 96,000 clients and employing more than 300 people. But there is no public off-street parking for blocks, not a single visitor’s space in the lot underneath the building or across the street in another county lot. Many employees are bused from off-site parking.

The two-lane street is between a housing tract and Van Nuys Boulevard. Near the office there are a meager 56 spaces along both sides of Lanark. There is no parking on Van Nuys Boulevard. Parking in the residential neighborhoods is limited to two hours, and residents have petitioned to post the street against non-residents.

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Parking in the 56 spaces is restricted to one hour. I am told that nothing in the county welfare system takes less than an hour to complete. Clients often come out to find a $15 ticket ($30 on street-cleaning day) on their windshields.

The Jan. 17 earthquake damaged the building, and parking enforcement was mercifully curtailed while a disaster-aid center and temporary welfare office operated in the parking lot. The disaster office has closed, leaving the welfare department in its temporary quarters. With the feds gone, torrential ticketing has begun again.

The lesson, I suppose, is that you can have an absurd, unfair situation in which no one is clearly at fault. While the county gives money to welfare clients with one hand, the city takes it away with other. People who can least afford it are being ticketed with a vengeance.

The county acknowledges there is a problem but lacks the power to change the time limit or stop the city from writing tickets. Several officials, including Bryce Yokomizo, the Social Services district director, said he has asked City Councilman Richard Alarcon to seek to liberalize the parking rules.

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Mary Moss, the Valley parking enforcement supervisor for the city, says her department is under pressure from the businesses on the block to write tickets to make space for customers. To parking enforcers on the street, of course, the block is as the Grand Banks is to a commercial fisherman. The enforcers are on the block constantly, reeling in the revenue, just doing their jobs.

But this is the wrong place for such an office in the first place, in a 10-business block with few spaces for cars. The welfare department outgrew this building more than a decade ago. Yet as its offices consolidate, the county keeps shunting more people to this office. It even repaired the building--over neighbors’ objections--after a fire in April, 1993.

Throngs of women with small children overflow onto the sidewalk, sometimes in hot or rainy weather. Several welfare workers spend their day lining up and managing the crowds outside.

Traffic slows to a halt as people pick up and drop off friends or look for parking. Parking-enforcers in two or more vehicles mark tires and scribble tickets. Periodically you hear the cry of discovery when someone finds a citation.

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In the short term, the various bureaucracies ought to figure out a way to go easy on enforcement--even though the city needs the money.

In the long term, fate in the form of the earthquake has given the county a chance to eliminate the sad sight of tickets on old and battered cars and relieve the neighborhood of the crowds and traffic.

Neighborhood groups and businesses should lobby for an environmental impact report on the repair work under way before any more tax money is spent. The county should stop fixing the building and move the operation to one of the Valley’s many large, vacant office spaces with ample parking.


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