A grass-roots group of Angelenos wants to revamp the way Los Angeles collects parking ticket revenue — and has pledged to take its campaign to the ballot box if the city doesn't embrace its proposed reforms.
The Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative wants to cap fines for parking violations that don't affect public safety at $23, give neighborhoods a way to help create and alter local regulations and fees, and funnel parking ticket money into a separate fund instead of pouring it into the general city budget.
Many Los Angeles parking tickets are much more costly. Parking in a prohibited area during street cleaning can cost $73, for instance. The average parking ticket currently stands at $68, $45.50 of which goes to the general fund to pay for basic city services, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
Members of the group complain that Los Angeles has banked on parking tickets as a way to weather its budget problems. Money reaped from parking tickets has grown from nearly $110 million in 2003 to roughly $161 million this year, according to the mayor's budget.
"When the city budget says that the parking violations office is supposed to collect $160 million, it's a de facto quota," said Steven Vincent, a Studio City financial market analyst who founded the Parking Freedom Initiative. "They have to go out there and get that money one way or another."
Critics argue that the current fines fall especially hard on the poor, particularly in dense neighborhoods with scarce parking. Vincent said the new plan would cap parking tickets that do not involve public safety, such as parking at an expired meter, to the median hourly wage for the L.A. metropolitan area.
Parking tickets that involve public safety — and therefore would not be capped at $23 — would include parking in front of a fire hydrant or in a handicapped space, he said.
The proposed new fund for parking ticket revenue, dubbed the Special Parking Revenue Fund, would be spent on "transportation infrastructure," including sidewalk repairs, parking and street signage, electric vehicle charging stations and other improvements that relieve "parking bottlenecks," according to the group. Money could only be transferred out of the fund in emergency situations.
Vincent argued that the plan would not cost the city, despite the reduction in parking fines, because the ticket money would be invested in ways that could boost city revenue from taxes and fees.
For instance, Vincent said the city could strategically build parking facilities that would reap more revenue for the city and encourage more shoppers to visit businesses nearby. The plan would also allow the sale of bonds to cushion the lost revenue when tickets were initially reduced.
Earlier this year, the group announced it was teaming up with Mayor Eric Garcetti to examine possible changes through an official city working group. At the first meeting of that working group on Thursday, the Parking Freedom Initiative plans to formally offer its proposal.
If officials reject the plan, the activists say they may place its proposed reforms before voters next March.
"We're not looking to stick it to the city — although there's certainly a lot of angry people out there," Vincent said. "We just want to solve the problem.... If somebody can show us something else that works, we're willing to listen."
Garcetti's office did not immediately respond to questions Thursday morning about his opinions on the parking proposal.
"We know that parking tickets are frustrating for Angelenos and we are looking forward to meeting with the working group to address citation issues and look at ways to apply technology to help people find parking and avoid tickets," his spokeswoman Vicki Curry said in an emailed statement.
The working group is scheduled to meet privately Thursday afternoon at City Hall.