City Considers On-Street Car Repair Crackdown

Times Staff Writer

Get a charge out of replacing your own sparkplugs? Think fixing a busted fan belt is a cinch?

You may save money by doing your own auto repairs, but if you perform amateur mechanical work on the streets of Los Angeles, you may have to watch out for parking enforcement officers.

The city may crack down on on-street auto repairs by giving the city's 525 parking officers the authority to enforce the citywide ban on such repairs.

The LAPD is responsible for enforcing the law, but city officials said the police force is too overwhelmed with murders and robberies to make on-street auto repairs a priority. For that reason, Councilwoman Janice Hahn has proposed a law that would shift the responsibility to the city's parking enforcement unit. She said on-street repairs contribute to neighborhood blight and environmental problems.

But critics said low-income residents who can't afford a professional mechanic have no choice but to do the work themselves and often end up on the streets because they lack access to driveways or private garages.

"It's kind of unjust to do this in deprived areas," said Arturo Ybarra, a founder of the Watts/Century Latino Organization.

He said that the city could at least warn residents about making repairs on the street before issuing tickets.

"Government is always very anxious about implementing new laws, but it is very lazy about informing the public about the laws," he said.

The penalty for doing auto repairs on a city street is $25 for the first offense and $60 for the second. The city's municipal code exempts motorists who make emergency repairs on vehicles that break down while operating on city streets.

Hahn said she is sensitive to the needs of poor residents who can't afford professional mechanics, but said she fears that on-street repairs ruin the "quality of life" in some neighborhoods. Hahn said she hopes that parking enforcement officers won't target those residents who occasionally tinker under the hood.

"We are going after the chronic offenders, people who really do it on a regular basis," she said.

Hahn's proposal is expected to come before a council committee next month.

Some residents worry that overzealous enforcement officers will cite residents for minor repairs.

Recently, Ray Perez, of Boyle Heights, was replacing a broken thermostat on his SUV. He said he had to make the repair on the street because his driveway was blocked by other family cars.

"To give me a ticket for something like this would be ridiculous," he said.

Hahn acted after Wilmington residents complained that on-street repairs give their neighborhoods a run-down look and create traffic problems.

Some Wilmington residents complained that people who make repairs on the streets block traffic by leaving tires, tools or car parts in the middle of the road.

Others complained that a few residents operate full-blown auto repair shops on the streets, without paying the required city taxes or fees.

"It's not only unsightly, but a lot of people are making a living off it at other people's expense," said Gary Kern, of Wilmington.

Hahn said she also is concerned about the potential environmental damage caused by on-street repairs. She said oil and other automotive fluids that spill on the streets during repairs can get washed into storm drains and eventually end up polluting beaches.

Professional mechanics also support the crackdown because they say it would target unlicensed auto shops that operate on city streets.

"It's frustrating to be a professional in this industry and have to compete with a bunch of hackers on the street," said Frank Joel, the owner of a San Fernando Valley auto shop.

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