The Los Angeles Times Really Doesn’t Think Drivers Should Be Fined for Parking at Broken Meters

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to continue the city policy of ticketing motorized vehicles parked in metered spaces where the meter is vandalized. Since the city began this program in 2009, the number of broken meters has dropped signifiganty, because of a combination of factors including the installation of newer parking meters and a dramatic decrease in the number of meters that are vandalized.

Photo: Mayor Sam

When the “ticketing at broken meters” policy was first announced in 2009, there was a brief media firestorm, although much of the story was lost in a larger uprising over a general increase in parking meter rates. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that banned ticketing at broken meters unless individual municipalities re-passed ordinances allowing the ticketing. The new legislation did little more than allow the Governor and some legislators to make themselves the “good guys” to the long-suffering California car-driver without actually doing anything.

However, the news of the legislation’s passing in Sacramento sent joy through the legacy media in Los Angeles, many of whom drive from houses to offices in Downtown Los Angeles or the Westside where private parking spaces await them. That the City Council almost immediately vowed to over-turn the law didn’t dampen their excitement.

So last week, the Los Angeles Times got a second chance to make a stink about a policy that is clearly working, vandalism at meters is at an all-time low, even if every broken meter in the city is a result of vandalism. The article on the Council action stated that the city is pocketing $5 million a year from tickets at broken meters. Even though the LADOT made clear that there is never more than 5 meters broken in a given day, the Times misquoted an LADOT official in a way that just happened to fit the narrative that the city was balancing its budget ledgers on the roof of L.A.’s hapless drivers.

To their credit, the Times did print a correction on their web-edition. The correction does make it sound that the LADOT is playing fast and loose with the numbers, not that their reporter made a mistake, but who’s counting?

For those of you without a Times subscription, here is the correction. For obvious reasons, we’re not reprinting the entire article:

Parking meters: In the Dec. 6 LATExtra section, an article about a Los Angeles City Council vote upholding a policy making it illegal to park in spaces with broken meters said that tickets issued at non-working meters generate about $5 million a year in revenue for the city. The city’s Department of Transportation says the $5-million figure it used was an estimate of meter revenue that would be lost because of increased vandalism if free parking were allowed at broken meters. Revenue from tickets issued at broken meters is negligible because newer meters rarely break down, the department says.

Speaking of basic math, if every broken meter in the city produced a ticket. And there were five broken meters everyday (remember, LADOT said that is the high number), then each ticket would have to be $548. That’s also assuming that the LADOT tickets everyday of the year.

The cost of a ticket parking at a broken meter is $63.

And even that’s too high for the Times.

Yesterday, the Times printed an editorial condemning the policy of ticketing those parking at broken parking meters, poo-pooing the idea that it’s helped reduce vandalism. After all, the editorial reasoned, if the real reason for the policy is preventing people from parking at broken meters, than why not just fine them the cost of parking at that meter? I’m guessing for the same reason that people who break into homes aren’t just fined the value of whatever it is they stole.

In the end, there are some things that the city can do to make things more fair for people parking on city streets, such as charge market rate to rent the space, but at least we can all agree on one thing. Those signs informing people it’s illegal to park at broken meters are awfully small, aren’t they?