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L.A. council ends ticketing of drivers who park at broken meters

L.A. traffic officer Richard Garcia walks past the city's new, high-tech parking meters. The new meters are so reliable that the City Council has decided that drivers who park at broken meters won't be ticketed.
(Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles Times)

For the last three years, drivers who left their cars at broken parking meters in Los Angeles risked getting a ticket. It was an unpopular enforcement policy, but one that officials said was needed to scare off drivers who broke meters or wrapped them in bags to avoid paying to park.

But on Wednesday, the City Council unanimously agreed to reverse course, saying the policy is unnecessary because new, high-tech parking meters have made a dramatic difference in the equipment’s reliability.

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Councilman Mike Bonin, who introduced the motion to stop ticketing at busted meters, called the vote a win for taxpayers and common sense. But others, including Councilman Paul Koretz, expressed concern that the council’s latest action could encourage vandalism again, particularly among valet companies.

When motorists were allowed to park for free at broken meters — and the devices accepted only coins — roughly 10% to12% were broken at any time.

But the 38,000 so-called “smart meters” Los Angeles has installed since 2010 immediately alert repairmen when coin slots jam or the new credit-card readers stop working. Officials say that feature, and the fact the new meters are harder to damage, has raised the city’s meter operability rate to 99.9996%. Meters are repaired within a few hours, officials said.

“The meters have never worked better,” Transportation Department engineer Dan Mitchell said at a recent meeting with city lawmakers.

The Transportation Department will report back to the City Council in six months on the effects of Wednesday’s policy change, including whether vandalism increased.

The new law will affect only a small number of drivers. Technicians swapped out the last outdated meter in December and since January only one ticket has been issued for parking at a broken meter. It was jammed with chewing gum.

Even if the meter is broken, the department said, drivers can stay only as long as is posted — not indefinitely.

The council also voted 12 to 1 to recommend that Gov. Jerry Brown veto Assembly Bill 61, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), which would ban tickets at broken meters statewide. Councilman Paul Krekorian said regulating parking meter violations is a matter for local government.

Gatto criticized the council vote in a statement, saying “ ‘local control’ does not provide a right to fleece taxpayers.” Taxpayers already pay for street maintenance, meter installation and meter upkeep, he said. “Cities should take responsibility and keep parking meters in good working order, not squeeze a double-penalty out of cash-strapped citizens.”

Newly seated Councilman Bob Blumenfeld cast the only vote against the veto request. He supported Gatto’s bill as a member of the state Assembly.

laura.nelson@latimes.com


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