When it comes to risky business, driving has nothing on parking in Pasadena
By Kevin Uhrich 03/11/2010
Where does it all end? No one can say for sure. But we do know where misery begins for people victimized by money-hungry state and local officials imposing bankbook-busting fines for such “crimes” as improper parking, rolling through stop signs and running red lights.
Those latter two Vehicle Code violations now cost hundreds of dollars to resolve. Running a red light is now a minimum of $446 — a $175 increase from 2002, according to the Los Angeles Times. Rolling through a stop sign isn’t much better, with the cost of that fine coming to $381 — and that’s all without the cost of traffic school to keep those particular offenses from increasing your insurance rates.
LA, it seems, is going all out to get every spare dime out of the pockets of errant drivers, booting tires then towing cars belonging to people with three unpaid parking tickets, when five such violations used to trigger such a radical response. It could be worse. In Louisville, Ken., for instance, two tickets get you the boot and then towed.
But then there is Pasadena, where parking tickets might as well be issued prior to arrival — like original sin — with an incredible equivalent of 1.4 parking citations issued over the past three years to every man, woman and child in the city.
Certainly every good citizen is all for people exercising good driving habits, but isn’t that just a little bit too much, especially in communities like LA, where the celebrity hob-nobbing mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, thinks nothing of spending a few hundred tax dollars for a bottle of fine wine over a dinner, which probably cost several times that much?
Now ask: How many mouths could that base $446 red-light camera fine feed in a month’s time? That amount — roughly the cost of two roundtrip airplane tickets to and from Sacramento, or a taxpayer-paid dinner with a staffer and a lobbyist or two at a fine restaurant in LA or Sacramento — is what some families actually survive on.
But these days, with Villaraigosa’s extravagant spending and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a supposedly fiscally conservative governor who’s reneged on every pledge to not raise taxes, hiked college tuitions and reinitiated the vehicle registration fees that he once used to beat up former Gov. Gray Davis back in the recall campaign of 2003, what can the average person do? Faced with a $20 billion and growing deficit, Schwarzenegger tried to generate $400 million by equipping already constitutionally repugnant red-light cameras with speed-tracking devices, but that idea died in a Senate committee earlier last month.
Making this fairly common practice of using Vehicle Code fine increases and municipal fee schedule hikes to close gaping budget deficits all the more dubious is the fact that our lawmakers also know that many a criminal career has started not in some nefarious drug-dealing gang or den of iniquity, but at the front counter of the local DMV.
There is no disagreement that people should try to drive better and pay their traffic and parking fines, even if that means going without food or shoes for the kids or putting off a house payment or whatever else people can do without to keep propping up bloated, overreaching government agencies.
The perhaps not easy but fair answer would be to operate within existing means, reduce these fines to reasonable amounts and stop these relentless attacks on average and poor people. But is that ever going to happen? Not while we tolerate politicians, who spend tax money on lavish dinners and other luxuries, and newspapers like the LA Times (which, in fairness, also suggests lowering some of these fines) condoning this blatant fleecing of the poor.
This idea of balancing budgets on the backs of average citizens — in effect, a regressive de facto tax — is nothing new or unusual. It’s happening everywhere public agencies are hemorrhaging money and public servants must justify their very existences — including Pasadena.
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the parking situation in Pasadena and at some of the people who write and enforce these excessively punitive traffic laws at the state and local levels. Who knows? Maybe we can come up with different ways to save money, cut costs and improve “service,” whatever that may actually be.
While this may not be where anything ends, we certainly can’t do any worse than the outright government-sanctioned robbery that’s now being committed by our elected and appointed officials.