California to Prevent Municipalities from Enforcing Parking Regulations
As a young Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, I received a great piece of leadership advice from a salty old Master Sergeant. He told me: “The moment you don’t uphold a standard, you just set a new standard”. California bill AB516 is on the cusp of becoming law. If passed, it will effectively ban the enforcement of parking ordinances across the state, forcing municipalities to rely only on collections and registration holds. This will have immediate and profound effects on every municipality in the state, with the greatest impact being felt by local businesses, residents, and municipal revenues.
Finding a balanced approach that effectively encourages compliance, without being overly draconian, can be a difficult task.
Like many cities and states – current laws in the State of California allow enforcement of parking regulations through immobilization and towing after five or more parking citations have not been paid within the designated time period. Drivers who meet these criteria are deemed “scofflaws” and when their vehicle is identified on a public road, they can be immobilized or towed. Following immobilization or towing, they must pay outstanding fines (or enroll in a payment plan) before getting their car back.
The AB516 bill would: “delete the authority of a peace officer or public employee, as appropriate, to remove or immobilize a vehicle under those circumstances.”
In its current form, AB516 would make the following changes:
• No immobilization or towing for scofflaw vehicles
• No towing of a vehicle in a tow away zone until:
• 5 days after identification (extending from current law, which allows for 72 hours)
• Notice of violation, with information on available parking alternatives
• Towing operators would not be able to conduct a lien sale to cover towing and storage fees
As a result, the only options left in California Vehicle Code are withholding registrations and/or sending the debt to collections or Franchise Tax Board Intercepts.
The purpose of AB516 is to prevent undue hardship on drivers, especially lower income drivers. The premise being that that lower income drivers are disproportionally affected by towing and immobilization. Consumer protection and fair collections practices are a noble cause and should be considered as one of the guiding principles when adopting an effective enforcement program. However, AB516 overreaches on consumer protection to the detriment of all other considerations.
This brings us to the question: “Why is parking enforcement necessary?”. Voluntary compliance with parking regulations is the desired end state of any enforcement program.
The desired outcomes of parking enforcement are:
1- Promote the safe and free flow of traffic
2- Ensure parking turnover
3- Ensure payment compliance
The end of enforcement is the end of widespread compliance. While many people will follow the rules regardless of the threat of enforcement, a large percentage of people will not. Especially when they deem the offense to be minor, like overstaying in a parking spot or driving above the speed limit. For example – a road with speed traps at regular intervals will have fewer people driving over the speed limit. Similarly – a well communicated and enforced parking management program will ensure widespread compliance. And, the more visible the enforcement, the more effective it is.
Julie Dixon, President of Dixon Resources Unlimited, a parking operations and enforcement expert, provides the following insight on the need for parking enforcement:
“A comprehensive parking enforcement program is critical to ensuring the safety of municipal streets and the availability of parking. When parking citations are not actively reinforced by effective escalation methods like relevant citation penalties, immobilization and, as a last resort, towing – people will stop following parking regulations”
If California passes AB 516 prohibiting the escalation of parking enforcement, the effect will be profound.
• Current California municipal incomes from parking tickets is over $500 Million annually
• Without effective enforcement and collections, revenues will decrease significantly, which will shrink parking budgets and decrease the ticketing workforce, having a cascading effect that will undercut the entire process
• In many cities, parking revenues are essential to funding public services
• Businesses rely on parking turnover to allow their customers a place to park
• If parking standards are no longer actively enforced, people will stay in spots longer, causing potential customers to abandon their errand, resulting in a continued hardship for brick and mortar businesses
• Added costs and demands to both private and public off street parking facilities
Traffic and Safety:
• Even with effective enforcement techniques Parking Expert Donald Shoup estimates: “in a 15-block area in Los Angeles’ Westwood Village alone, cars travel about 950,000 miles annually just cruising for parking, burning 47,000 gallons of gasoline and emitting 730 tons of carbon dioxide”
• Lack of available parking leads to increased congestion, further clogging roadways that are already maxed out during peak hours
When it comes to escalation of parking enforcement, options are already limited and finding a balanced approach that effectively encourages compliance, without being overly draconian, can be a difficult task.
Collections and Franchise Tax Board Intercepts are ineffective at encouraging compliance. The process is often only initiated after a substantial amount of time and debt has accrued. The combination of late fees, the collections agency’s fees, and the accrual of tickets means violators will owe substantial sums of money. This is the worst-case scenario for low income residents of California. The consequences are often so far removed from the offenses, both by time and relatability, they are not an effective deterrent or motivation to comply with parking regulations.
Towing can be an overly punitive method of enforcement with greatest effects felt by the poor. Loss of a vehicle combined with a multitude of fees, including mileage, daily storage, transit to the impound lot, and the tow itself add up to a significant amount of money. This is a situation that many households cannot easily manage financially, and they therefore lose their vehicles. Towing should only be used to ensure free flow of traffic and for safety reasons.
Immobilizations, when used as part of a comprehensive outreach program, can be a very effective means of enforcement without being overly punitive. From the League of California Cities Opposition Letter:
“When it comes to the immobilization of a vehicle, it is key to remember that this method is only used when someone has five or more unpaid parking tickets and the payment plans offered to them by the city, as established by recently chaptered bills AB 503 (2017) and AB 2544 (2018). These payment plans can be as low as $5 for an indigent person and $25 for a non-indigent person. This is a fair process that allows low-income individuals to pay their outstanding parking citations without impacting their ability to maintain their livelihood.”
When best practices are applied, consumer protection is prioritized, and motorists are treated as customers. A balanced approach can become the solution to the problems that brought about AB516 in the first place.
Kevin Dougherty is CEO of Barnacle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.