DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - From approximately 1935 until 2012, if a motorist in California came across a broken meter, that motorist could park for free. The logic was sound. If a city failed to keep the meter in repair, a driver shouldn’t be ticketed. After all, we taxpayers pay for maintenance of the street, installation of the meters, and the salaries of those who monitor them and keep them in working order.
In an all-too-familiar theme of governments inconveniencing the average citizen, some cities are chipping away at this tradition. Certain municipalities have enacted ordinances that ban parking at a space with a broken meter, leading to tickets for motorists. The Los Angeles City Council voted in December to institute just such a law.
This is a particular problem in high-traffic communities such as Downtown Los Angeles, where parking is at a premium. As Los Angeles Downtown News noted in a January editorial, this can require drivers to pass up a rare open space in search of another open one with a functioning meter.
I don’t think the crackdown is just. In January I introduced legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 61, that forbids cities from ticketing citizens who park at broken or malfunctioning parking meters. Motorists would still have to obey all other posted parking rules, like street-cleaning restrictions, but they’d be allowed to park for the maximum time allowed by a functioning meter.
I believe this is the right course of action for a number of reasons. First, we all lead busy lives, and the time spent in traffic or running errands takes us away from our loved ones. Forcing a motorist to drive around when there are perfectly good spots available is not good for the driver or the environment.
Second, forcing that motorist to park in an expensive lot is also not acceptable. I’d rather encourage cities to keep their meters working and have the revenue go into city coffers as well. Third, merchants deserve better. Commerce flows when people can park conveniently and get to where they’re going.
Finally, I believe AB 61 will decrease careless citations. A recent investigation found that more than 17,000 parking tickets had been issued, in a single year, for meters that had been reported as malfunctioning to the city of Los Angeles, even while the old rules were in effect. This is unacceptable.
The primary argument against the bill, concern about increased vandalism, lacks merit. As noted above, almost all cities have allowed parking at broken meters since the dawn of the parking meter. Most continue to do so now. Few people, if any, have carried around a sledgehammer or glue to avoid paying a quarter (or much more). As we transition to large, strong, street-parking kiosks that resemble ATM machines and feature cameras, I believe vandalism will decrease anyway.
The bottom line is that it is the responsibility of local governments to maintain their meters or parking kiosks and keep them in good working order. The people should not have to drive around ceaselessly or pay for the government’s mistakes and inefficiencies, especially when we already paid to install and maintain the meters in the first place.
Mike Gatto is the assemblyman for California’s 43rd District. He is also the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.