Do as I say, not as I do
Weekly finds many city and PUSD employees enjoy unlimited parking privileges as officials mull paper’s recommendations for reform
Present and former local officials offered mixed reactions to the Pasadena Weekly’s proposal to reform the city’s lucrative and controversial parking enforcement procedures, which have come under fire over the past several years by local business leaders, tourists and average citizens (please see Letters on page 5).
But while some council members appear warm to the idea of appointing a permanent director to oversee the city’s multimillion- dollar parking industry, and Mayor Bill Bogaard has vowed to review other reforms suggested by the paper with City Manager Michael Beck, neither Beck nor council members and other top city and public education officials will ever have to worry about getting a parking ticket in Pasadena.
That’s because those officials — along with nearly 230 other city and school employees — possess Official City Business parking placards, allowing them to park whenever and wherever they want free of charge and with full immunity from city parking laws and fines, according to documents obtained by the Weekly through a state Public Records Act request.
The names of the individuals were redacted by the City Attorney’s Office “given the confidential information contained in the OCB Placards list,” Assistant City Attorney Ann Sherwood Rider wrote in a cover letter accompanying the four-page list of parkers.
However, the list provides the titles of the privileged few, which include council members and their field representatives, the chief of police, the fire chief, and the heads of various departments and their staff members. Also included is the Pasadena Unified School District superintendent, the PUSD safety officer and various district staff and staff assistants.
That information comes on the heels of a four-part series by the Weekly on parking and traffic enforcement, which found:
• The city, responding to a separate PRA, reported parking agents with contractor Inter-Con Security Systems wrote more than 195,000 tickets in a city of 140,000 people in each of the past two years, filling city coffers with $11.1 million in fee money, with another $6.2 million expected this fiscal year. In contrast, parking enforcement agents in Glendale, with 60,000 more people than Pasadena, issued only 86,000 parking citations in 2009, taking in $4 million last year.
• Most complaints about Inter-Con involved unclear parking regulations issued by the city, with City Manager Beck stating that, “In almost every case it was the rules we had set up as a city and asked them to implement that were creating some of the challenges, and not Inter-Con as an organization.”
• Like many posted street parking regulations, overnight parking rules are unclear and are capriciously administered and enforced.
• Despite the system’s admitted flaws, only 1.3 percent of all challenged tickets in Pasadena were dismissed in 2007 and 2008.
• Information obtained through yet another PRA found that, in fiscal year 2009, city officials issued 52,686 overnight parking citations — nearly one for each of the city’s 54,000 households. That was a 16 percent increase over the 45,174 issued the previous fiscal year.
• Seven percent of those overnight parking citations issued in 2009 were contested, with only 1.6 percent dismissed — down from 2 percent the previous year. Also in 2009, the city raked in nearly $400,000 in parking permit fees, while fines for overnight parking violations brought in roughly another $2 million.
• The city has been without a full-time administrator managing its parking business since the departure of former city Parking Manager Bill Bortfeld last year.
• When it came to actual traffic stops, we reported on a survey of 1,500 Pasadenans that African Americans were stopped by police an average of three times per year. Latinos averaged two stops and white drivers averaged only one stop — all in a city where whites account for 55.8 percent of the population, while 33 percent is Latino and 13.4 percent is African American.
• We reported on another study by Yale Law Professor Ian Ayers, which first appeared in the Los Angeles Times, that African Americans were 127 percent more likely than white drivers to be searched during a traffic stop. But black drivers, Ayers noted, were 42.3 percent less likely to be in possession of a weapon, 25 percent less likely to be found with drugs and 33 percent less likely to be found with other contraband.
The fourth part of the series was an editorial calling for change and suggesting ways the city could do a better job at enforcing its parking and traffic laws, starting with hiring a replacement for Bortfeld. Other recommendations were:
• Form a citywide citizens’ parking commission that reports to the City Council and meets monthly to hear complaints and review reports from Inter-Con.
• Freeze fines for expired meters at $30, then raise all other parking fines only every two years.
• Increase free parking in city garages from 90 minutes to
• Offer a first-time warning.
• Allow any resident to park on the street day and night under one permit. Further, allow residents to obtain overnight parking permits for guests on an annual basis, rather than each time someone needs to stay the night.
• For our traffic lawmakers at the state level, place a two-year moratorium on raising fines associated with red light and speeding violations.
• Increase by two weeks the time allowed to pay all traffic fines.
• Base Vehicle Code fines on an ability to pay and allow poverty-stricken violators to work off costs through community service.
Of the four members who responded to our inquiries, Council members Jacque Robinson and Terry Tornek took no positions without further study of the issue. Councilman Steve Madison was against replacing Bortfeld and said other areas of the city, specifically the Playhouse District, which is actually in Tornek’s council territory, are in need of both more parking and a revenue generator.
Only former Mayor Bill Paparian said he would support all of the paper’s recommendations.
“I’ve always been struck by how aggressive parking enforcement is in Pasadena,” said Paparian, who is a lawyer in private practice.
Bogaard, while supportive of ideas for change, did not immediately embrace any of the proposals.
“These recommendations deserve serious consideration,” said Bogaard. “Under the proper procedure, I could see this being referred to staff with the recommendation that staff come back to council with an evaluation and recommendations of actions that might be taken in light of these suggestions. In fact, the next opportunity I have to sit down with the city manager, I will ask him for his opinion about implementing these recommendations and see if more than a couple have a role to play in terms of making our parking enforcement more user-friendly.”
Since the series appeared in March and April, the city approved a contract with DataTicket Inc. to collect parking fees owed to the city from out-of-state drivers.
“It’s important that the city collect all the revenue to which we’re entitled,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, who was the only member of the board to vote in July against renewing Inter-Con’s $1.9 million, three-year contract with the city.
McAustin agreed that a parking director should be hired and that parking regulations should be addressed on a citywide basis. “We need to have consistency with city rules and implement uniform policies across the city,” she said.
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little, McAustin’s predecessor on the council and another vocal critic of Inter-Con, said he doesn’t want to loosen parking restrictions because the system in place serves its purpose. However, he said, “Other companies and cities seem to work better [than Pasadena]. They must do something that eases the sting of getting a ticket.”