Getting the boot
City goes hunting for parking scofflaws while jacking up fees and fines
By André Coleman 05/17/2012
When Pasadena officials said everything was on the table when it comes to balancing the city’s budget, they meant everything — including booting cars with unpaid parking tickets and imposing across-the-board increases in parking fines and city fees.
On Monday, the Pasadena City Council began discussions on what could result in increases in just about every general fee category, including those for business permits.
If the new schedule for fines and fees is approved this coming Monday, most parking fines will increase by about 90 cents per ticket.
When it comes to fees, 1,272 of the city’s 1,318 fees would increase. Twenty-two fees would be dropped because the services are no longer available, although 23 additional fees would be added. A total of 61 existing fees would stay the same, according to Pasadena Director of Finance Andrew Green.
The proposed increases, designed to raise $325,000 a year, come on the heels of a major parking fine increase proposal by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which would hike LA parking fines to as much as $70, from the current fine of $60. Fines for parking in the red zone would increase to $98. This would be the sixth parking fine increase in Los Angeles in the past seven years.
That move, according to Villaraigosa’s proposal, would help the city of Los Angeles close a $238-million deficit in its $23-billion budget for the coming fiscal year.
The extra revenue won’t come close to denting that city’s deficit, but in Pasadena, the City Manager’s Office and the Department of Transportation believe an increase in parking fines will help keep City Hall’s $776-million budget balanced for the coming fiscal year.
However, what is good news for the city isn’t always music to the ears of citizens, who will now not only pay more for parking tickets, but also face having their illegal vehicles hunted down and either impounded for improper registration or booted — at a cost of $150 — if the vehicle’s owner has five or more outstanding parking tickets.
Last November, Pasadena City Council members said all options would be on the table when it came to balancing the budget and closing an $8-million budget deficit exacerbated by a powerful wind storm in late November/early December. The hurricane-force winds caused an additional $17 million in damage, putting the city $25 million in the hole.
Councilwoman Jacque Robinson said city management should be cautious when it comes to implementing policies that could impact residents already struggling financially.
“I want to be careful that we are not instituting fees that are going to make it harder for the people that are least able to pay the fees in the first place, and that we are not being overly aggressive introducing new fees to balance our budget,” Robinson said.
But when it comes to parking, aggressive enforcement has already started. City parking officials are currently combing the city in search of hundreds of cars that have racked up at least $350 in parking fines, according to a press release issued by Dock’s department. The release urges “parking scofflaws” with five or more delinquent tickets to pay up — or else.
“Department officials have a list of more than 650 license plates of cars whose owners owe a minimum of $362 in parking fines, and the parking enforcement team is constantly on the lookout for them, cruising the streets, looking at plates,” the release states.
“Scofflaws have good reason to worry, because it’s not a question of if they’ll be found, just when, because enforcement has been stepped up,” the statement continues. “Since July 2011, the department has found and impounded 212 vehicles — 182 of those just since the first of this year — and the benefit to the city budget and the public services it pays for is worth the extra effort, as enforcers have recovered more than $190,000 in delinquent fees.”
Dock did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story. Neither Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Paul Little nor Old Pasadena Management District (OPMD) CEO and President Steve Mulheim were aware of the suggested fine increases.
Little referred the Weekly to the OPMD, which monitors parking issues. However, Mulheim didn’t seem overly concerned about an increase in fines or the possibility of cars being booted and impounded in and around the city’s premier shopping and dining district.
“It doesn’t seem incredibly egregious to me,” Mulheim told the Weekly. “I am sure it won’t be considered a gift by those who receive a ticket. There has been some sense of aggressive parking enforcement in the past. There are a number of issues the city has backed off on in ticketing.
“While I certainly support grace and leeway for our downtown visitors, I think there is a wide berth between one ticket and racking up a roster of them,” he continued.
The move marks a major change in policy for the city, which has not booted cars for parking violations in the past as part of the “Pasadena Way,” a code adopted by city leaders which states the city follows the spirit of the law, as opposed to the letter of the law, among other non-binding maxims.
In the past, owners were forced to pay the tickets when they renewed their vehicle’s registration. The city wrote more than 195,000 parking tickets in 2009 and 2010, which averaged more than one parking ticket per resident. Some local business owners and residents have complained that parking enforcement has been far too aggressive in writing tickets.
“I understand from the city that the fees are in line with other cities,” said Pasadena City Councilman Gene Masuda. “We’re trying to keep ourselves competitive so we can keep increasing revenue. We are always trying to keep our fees in line with other cities.”
Other fee increases include a rate hike in filming in Pasadena and a 2-percent increase in new business permits, which concerns Vice Mayor Margaret McAustin.
“It is expensive to get a parking ticket in Pasadena,” McAustin noted. However, “I am more concerned about the message we send with our enforcement,” she said. “Our enforcement sends a message about what kind of city we are and how we treat people.”
McAustin said she was also concerned about the rate hike in business permits, which could discourage small business owners from setting up shop in Pasadena.
“My one complaint is the cost of the business license,” McAustin told the Weekly. “In general I think our fees tend to be higher than other cities, particularly for business licenses. It really discourages small business owners.”