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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Republic of L.A. gets City to Reconsider Parking Tickets

Republic Of L.A. got a lot of feedback on the Monday, June 8 post about ambiguous parking signage and what effectively turned out to be a parking-ticket trap near West Hollywood Park. I emailed all of the WeHo City Council Members a link to the post and got a prompt response from Council Member Jeffrey Prang's deputy, Jake Stevens. Addressing the subject line I included with my email to his boss, which referred to the situation as seeming to be a "sham" Stevens assured me in his initial email that a) there was no scam, and b) he would research the issue and get back to Republic Of L.A. with more information. He did get back to ROLA with some really valuable information, and a reiteration of there being no scam at play (it may seem like minutia, but it's important from my perspective to note that I used the word "sham," not "scam." The difference being, in my mind at least, that you can end up with an unintended sham, but a scam is always planned from the outset.) Here is the response we got from Prang's office via Mr. Stevens:

As part of Phase I of the West Hollywood Park Master Plan (which includes the construction of the new 44,000 square foot, state-of-the-art library, public meeting rooms, Friends of the Library space, a municipal parking garage with over 300 parking spaces, a 91-space parking garage and new tennis courts), the 20 parking meters in the Melrose alley are being eliminated for safety reasons since construction is going on in close proximity and to maintain a fire lane for the Fire Department.

The parking meters in the Melrose alley were removed and the curb painted red last Friday, June 5, 2009. Removing the signs was part of the work order but all the work could not be completed on Friday. The current signs are scheduled to be removed on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 and replaced with new signs that alert drivers that no parking in the alley is allowed.
The situation you reported is not the result of any deliberate attempt to mislead the public, but rather a delay in getting all the work completed in the alley as requested.

We will evaluate any requests submitted by individuals cited at this location during this time and will take appropriate action if we find that the citation resulted because drivers were confused by signs. In order to mitigate the loss of parking in the area during the library construction project, the City recently built a 113 space parking lot just north of the Public Library and a short walk from the Melrose Alley that is open to the public from 6:00 AM to 2:30 AM seven days per week.

Without wanting to diminish the response, which was comprehensive and detailed, not to mention promptly delivered--and all but promises to forgive any tickets that were wrongly issued during the weekend in question if the drivers ask for a review--it left out the one thing that seemed most important: Parking Enforcement's wanton combativeness with the public.

As you may recall or may want to re-read here, a central point of the post was the fact that the shift supervisor ended up hanging up on me after saying the signs didn't matter all that mattered was the freshly painted red curb. "If they parked in a red zone, they will be ticketed," were his exact words.

I asked Council Member Prang's deputy if it seemed proper to him for Parking Enforcement to dismiss a sincere phone call about an issue that was clearly unfair to citizens of and visitors to the city (especially during the Great Recession). His response to that final question was a real eyeopener.

It turns out that those little white Prius's with "City of West Hollywood Parking Enforcement" emblazoned on the side are operated by a private company: Serco Inc., a global parking and traffic enforcement contractor.

This brings up a whole new discussion and ripe fodder for future blog posts: Is West Hollywood or are similar cities really well served by these contractors that allow them to avoid building their own police forces, parking enforcement divisions, housing programs and many other services?

The military has fired Haliburton after that contractor reamed the taxpayers for untold billions after promising to do the job of supporting the troops on the battlefield "better, faster and cheaper."

But here's a better comparison: the City of Los Angeles Department of Water & Power charges its customers considerably less than Edison charges its customers. During the rolling blackouts of the early 2000s, DWP managed to keep the power on for everybody.

But don't take my word for it. Ask a Realtor how much value is added to a property simply by virtue of being in DWP service area. The reason is because buyers know they will pay smaller electric and water bills, even with recent rate hikes. Besides, when the power executives' bosses are elected officials, i.e., city council members, it's fairly easy to keep up pressure to keep rates down.

Note: The city also promised to consider doing more to communicate with more signage the availability of temporary parking north of Melrose Alley.


Anonymous said...

Are you kiiiiddddddiiiiiing me? A private company is WEHO's hired gun when it comes to raking in moolah from parking tickets? This is something I never even came close to imagining . . . it's a corporate world, we just scammed/shammed/whatever in it . . . disgusting. No more trips to WEHO.

LA Journalist said...

I consider myself to be fairly un-naive, and I was blown away too. I've believed for a while now that West Hollywood is ready for its own police department, but I never dreamed Parking Enforcement was contracted from the private sector.