Despite aggressive parking enforcement, Los Angeles has gone easy on chronic scofflaws who rack up multiple unpaid parking tickets, with the city missing out on up to $15 million in revenue, a new audit has found.
The audit focused on parking violators with five or more unpaid tickets. Such violators are supposed to have their vehicles impounded or immobilized by a boot lock placed on one of the wheels.
But officials found that L.A. Department of Transportation parking enforcement officers did not take action against 73.5% of the chronic offenders they came across.
"Tickets only work if the city abides by the laws on the books," said City Controller Wendy Greuel at a news conference Tuesday. "The city cannot afford such lax enforcement."
The audit marks the latest black eye for L.A.'s parking enforcement unit. An audit last year found that the city was losing tens of millions of dollars in potential revenue because the department's practices captured barely half of parking ticket fines and other fees. That audit, which showed data for 2008 and 2009, found that the department had collected only about 50% of the parking fines and other fees that were owed.
The new audit covers 2008 through 2010. Amir Sedadi, interim general manager for the city transportation department, said that in 2008 a special unit was formed with 38 employees to focus on severe parking offenders, using special license plate recognition technology to check the records of vehicles. But the unit was disbanded in August 2009, city transportation officials said, because of staffing shortages in other areas of the department. According to the controller, 13 city vehicles enabled with license plate recognition technology also were not used between September 2009 and September 2010.
Sedadi said disbanding the unit was done in part so that the department could reach its revenue goal of $132 million for that year. Employees of the unit were moved into regular parking enforcement jobs.
The L.A. Department of Transportation in September 2010 re-created a centralized unit focusing on severe offenders, calling it the "High Profile Scofflaw Team," and promising to dedicate 19 employees to the effort. The department said it would also fully utilize the vehicles with license plate recognition technology and that a tow truck will follow those vehicles so that offending cars can be impounded on the spot.
Another change the department made was the installation of a code in hand-held devices used by parking officers that will allow them to better detect scofflaws.
At the news conference Tuesday, officials with the city controller's office said the latest audit was not the last investigation into the department and that at least two other audits that focus on parking citations are being completed.
"What we are finding is that it has not necessarily been a priority of the department to ensure that the rules are followed both by the people who owe the city of Los Angeles money as well as internally," Greuel said. "We want to assure the public that it is run properly."
Overall, total revenue for the department has stayed relatively flat over the last three years. In fiscal year 2007-08 it collected about $127 million in total revenue, a year later about $133.6 million and last fiscal year about $131.8 million.