California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 40215 describes your rights and procedures to follow when challenging a parking citation.

When Santa Monica resident Harriet Epstein was ticketed last February, she contested it by providing facts she believed justified dismissal.

A Santa Monica police Traffic Services officer reviewed her case and decided to uphold the citation.

City Hall employs two contractors to handle noticing and administrative duties for appeals. The Santa Monica Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) is run by ACS State and Local Solutions — a Xerox Company, and directed by City Hall. It sent Epstein the form letter stating, “The citation is valid.”

CVC 40215(A) mandates that the notice informing appellants of the failure to dismiss must “include a reason for denial.” In thousands of instances since the statute which was amended effective Jan. 1, 2009 specifically to require written reason for denying an appeal, appellants like Epstein still received form letters.

Epstein paid the $64 fine and requested a hearing before an examiner — also a contractor managed by the Business & Revenue Operations Division of the Finance Department. The hearing examiner also upheld the citation.

She was notified of the examiner’s decision with yet another “the citation is valid” letter — a letter that violates CVC statute 40215(c)(6) which requires “… if the notice (citation) is not canceled,” a letter which will “include a written reason for that denial” must be sent by the examiner.

Harriet and her attorney husband, Stanley, learned the hearing examiner always writes a reason for denying appeals but in every case for 30 months those reasons were not provided to appellants as required by state statute which clearly states that a reason must be given why “the citation is valid.”

They also discovered that ACS/PVB had told City Hall of the changes in CVC 40215 effective Jan. 1, 2009. The current hearing examiner had also questioned the city’s procedures and requested legal review. This was all ignored and the illegal notifications kept going out.

Don Patterson of the Finance Department (who is in charge of citation administration) told me last spring, “These concerns were reviewed with the City Attorney’s Office, and our current administrative hearing processes and notices meet the minimum requirements of applicable state law …”

The Epsteins pleaded with the city for three months to amend its handling of parking tickets appeals. In late May, 2011, a press release announcing a raft of improvements to its citation appeals process in the interest of “good customer service” was issued by City Hall.

Patterson told Daily Press editor Kevin Herrera last week, “They (appellants) get a second letter that has an entire paragraph by the citation hearing officer that has very specific information regarding their particular case." However, I’ve heard of recent instances wherein first time appellants have still received the “citation is valid” kiss-off. So what gives?

Fed up, Stanley and Harriet Epstein filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in June, 2011, challenging City Hall’s and ACS’s past handling of appeals. The City Attorney argued that Harriet was guilty and asked for dismissal. The judge said "guilt or innocence” wasn’t the issue; the case was about whether the rights of parking appellants were violated by City Hall’s mishandling of the appeal process. He refused to dismiss the case.

You’re probably thinking that the Epsteins are suing to win a big monetary judgment. No. They just wanted the city to follow a lawful procedure for handling future appeals and provide relief to thousands of motorists deprived of their statutory rights over a 30-month period beginning Jan. 1, 2009.

Negotiations, including mediation, continued between the parties and finally broke down last week after City Hall reneged on its own attorney’s agreement to run a joint public notice after settlement in City Hall’s monthly newsletter, The Seascape. The Epsteins’ attorney, Eric J. Benink notified City Hall that the “parking enforcement class action” will “continue because of the city’s decision to keep from the public knowledge of the basic facts of staff wrongdoing for 30 months."

Transparency was a principal goal of the Epsteins in their efforts to settle reasonably. City officials — with the approval of the City Council — covered up serious staff bungling and then denied public access to the truth by blocking publication of a public notice in The Seascape — thus killing the deal. And, they claim to serve the citizens of Santa Monica? Unbelievable.

In torpedoing the opportunity to settle, city bureaucrats apparently decided that hiding the facts justified facing ballooning legal and administrative costs and staff exposure to potentially embarrassing questioning under oath. Finally, a case that should have been settled for a modest amount and minimal public notice could wind up with a $1 million-plus price tag and refunds to tens of thousands of motorists whose cases weren’t handled according to law.

There’s been some really bad decision-making here. Refusing to revise the appeals process by not adhering to provisions required by law and then promising “better customer service” without relief to the tens of thousands of citation appellants hurt in the past is bad customer relations and reprehensible municipal policy.

City Hall has acted in bad faith. Now, it’s risking a large financial exposure and public embarrassment if it unsuccessfully defends itself. If there ever was a “City Hall of Shame,” this is it.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com