Thursday, July 11, 2013

PRESS ENTERPRISE EDITORIAL: If meters are broken, don’t fine motorists

I'm excited to have the support of the Press Enterprise in my efforts to end ticketing at broken parking meters.

THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE July 08, 2013; 05:27 PM

California drivers should not face fines for parking conditions outside of their control. Gov. Jerry Brown should sign a bill that strengthens a ban on fines for parking in spaces with broken parking meters. Local government should keep meters in good repair, not use broken meters as a way to pry more money out of unwary drivers.

The Senate last week approved AB 61, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, sending the bill to the governor. This legislation would for three years prohibit local fines for parking beside a broken meter. Current state law bars cities and counties from levying fines for parking at defective meters, but also allows local governments to opt out and apply different rules. Some cities, most notably Los Angeles, have enacted ordinances that fine drivers who park at broken meters — though how many jurisdictions have their own rules is not clear.

But there is nothing fair about fining drivers who cannot pay for parking because of a malfunctioning meter. Such charges make parking needlessly annoying for drivers, especially in areas with limited parking space. Motorists either have to waste time driving around in search of another spot, or park by a broken meter and risk a fine. Businesses also worry that busted meters in front of their stores or offices can complicate customer parking — and potentially drive away commerce. Fining drivers because government equipment has malfunctioned is hardly a welcoming gesture.

Such fines also create a perverse incentive for government to move slowly on fixing meters. Cities and counties can rake in more money from parking fines than from parking fees. Parking at a metered space costs at most a few dollars, but fines can be much more expensive: Los Angeles’ fine for using a space with a broken meter, for example, runs upward of $60. Los Angeles officials said last year that lifting the fine for broken meters would “cost” the city up to $5 million a year.

AB 61, however, would give local government a powerful reason to keep parking meters in working order.
Meanwhile, those who parked next to busted meters for longer than the posted time limit would still face fines. A meter malfunction should not provide a free pass to hold a spot indefinitely.

Local governments claim that if the state precludes fines for parking next to broken meters, people will vandalize the devices to avoid parking fees. But there is little evidence to support that contention, and meter sabotage does not seem to be an issue for cities that do not levy such fines now. Besides, the penalty for vandalism carries a base fine of up to $1,000, a far steeper cost than simply paying to park. And AB 61 would sunset in three years, time enough to gather evidence on whether meter vandalism is a valid concern.
At the same time, AB 61 would create more uniform parking rules in a state with a mobile population, and end the practice of punishing drivers for malfunctioning meters. The bill offers an approach that is fairer and more sensible than a patchwork of local meter rules, and the governor should sign it.

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Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly.  He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. 

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