Parking fines in Los Angeles

A Los Angeles traffic officer; in L.A., the fine for parking at an expired meter is $63. (Los Angeles Times)

The group we represent, the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative, appreciates The Times' editorial board for addressing the unfolding parking reform process taking place in Los Angeles, where even minor parking violations will set you back an outrageous $63 or more.

We'd like to take this opportunity to expand upon and clarify certain points raised by The Times and the issues we think voters should decide if City Hall fails to act.

First, our group's proposal to cap some parking fines at $23 should be viewed as a stopgap measure until a better, more rational system can be put in place. With regard to parking meters and other violations, we strongly agree with The Times that some kind of graduated fine structure should be adopted. The paradigm of fining all violators — first-time and serial violators alike — the same draconian amount is antiquated and needs to be replaced.

One suggestion is to adopt a more "proactive" approach that prevents expired-meter violations from happening in the first place. Technology available allows for many options that would incentivize paying meter fees, therefore avoiding violations.

Bottom line, if L.A. can shift to a new approach that focuses far less on punishment and collecting fines, the need for our $23 cap would be moot. But if City Hall drags its feet, our group will continue to push for relief from a system that is essentially a form of highly regressive taxation.

High parking fines are only a symptom of a greater malady. Fines have skyrocketed, not due to an epidemic of scofflaws hogging the city’s parking spaces but rather merely to put additional revenue in the city's coffers. As The Times correctly points out, "the city should try to wean itself" from reliance on parking fines to fund the general budget. That needs to be the focus of reform efforts. Once the city is no longer dependent on high fines and aggressive enforcement, the temperature on the thermometer will drop and the symptom will be alleviated. The sickness that needs treatment is relying on parking fines as a source of municipal revenue.

Though it may be true that other cities have similarly high fines, multiple wrongs do not make a right. Just because neighboring jurisdictions have an addiction to parking-fine revenue, that doesn't mean we should as well.

Furthermore, the idea that fines should cover the cost of enforcement is flawed. Directly tying enforcement costs to the amount of the fine provides no incentive to keep those costs in check. For example, if enforcement costs balloon into the billions of dollars, then truly outrageous parking fines would be OK. But morally, they aren't. Do people who need police services pay a fee to cover the total cost of that service?

A fine should be no higher than what would incentivize compliance. Anything more is simply an abuse of power.

The Times asks: "Should the metered time be 20 minutes or two hours? Should meters operate until 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. or 1 a.m.? Of course, the answers to these questions vary by neighborhood; there's no one-size-fits-all policy." We strongly agree, and this is a cornerstone of our effort. Neighborhood stakeholders are clamoring for an approach to parking enforcement that meets the real-world, curbstone needs of residents, visitors and businesses.

Parking reform also serves a much broader, noble purpose: to restore the relationship between city government and the residents it serves. The new Los Angeles Parking Services Administration that our group has proposed for the city would have a clear public-service mission. Its on-street representatives would become neighborhood liaisons between City Hall and residents, not merely enforcers. One of the biggest symbols of a detached, extortive municipal government would be gone, helping to improve the city's image as a kinder place to live and do business.

Last but not least, we need to spend parking revenue in a way that clearly benefits L.A. residents. Our proposals to revitalize and restructure the existing Special Parking Revenue Fund would create transportation hubs that link automobile parking with other transportation modes while generating economic activity and tax revenue for the city. We've seen great support in the community for strategically investing our parking revenue to grow the local economy and facilitate a gradual transition to a multi-modal transportation system.

We hope that The Times will continue to facilitate an open dialog about the future of automobile parking in Los Angeles.

Jay Beeber and Stephen Vincent are the organizers of the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative and two of five citizens co-chairing the parking reform group recently created by Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.