What happens when you get a parking ticket you think you didn’t deserve? You could pay the fine and chalk it up to a “bad day,” or you could contest it.

California Vehicle Code (CVC), Section 40215 entitled “Contesting Parking Violation Procedure,” describes your rights and a course to follow if you want to challenge a parking citation, have it dismissed and avoid financial loss.

A friend’s wife received a parking citation issued by the Santa Monica Police Department in January. Without debating the merits of her case, I will deal with the apparent failure of the system to render a legally proper process to people who feel they may have been cited unfairly.

The wife — let’s call her Harriet — feels her parking citation was issued in error. She wrote a letter following printed instructions on the citation contesting the ticket to the Parking Violations Bureau (PVB). She explained why she thought the citation wasn’t valid and asked for dismissal. A SMPD traffic services officer reviewed the case and decided whether to dismiss or uphold the citation. He then informed PVB of his decision.

PVB is a sub-contractor to ACS State and Local Solutions which is a Xerox company. They handle parking ticket paperwork and related administrative services for City Hall as well as major municipalities nationally and internationally.

Within a few days, Harriet received an unsigned form letter from PVB’s offices that didn’t address any of the issues she raised. The letter simply stated “the citation is valid.” However, CVC statute 40215(a) states clearly that the initial review notification upholding the citation must “include a reason for that denial.”

Harriet and her attorney husband called the SMPD to inquire about the alleged failure of PVB’s response to meet CVC requirements. They were informed by a lieutenant that the “denial (notification) was appropriate.” Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman decided not to intervene pending possible legal proceedings.

Harriet paid the $64 bail and requested a hearing.

Parking citation hearing examiner services are provided by a City Hall contractor and managed by a division of the Finance Department. Hearing examiner Sheri Ross has a two-year contract with City Hall to adjudicate parking violation appeals. As many as 1,664 cases are heard annually, according to City Hall documents.

Harriet and her attorney husband presented their case to Ross at a hearing. They addressed the citation’s validity and mentioned that they didn’t believe the original notification from PVB contained a reason for denying Harriet’s claim as required by CVC 40215(a). They asked for dismissal. Ross told Harriet she’d review the statute, analyze the arguments and make her decision. Two days later, another unsigned notification form arrives from PVB. It too simply stated, “the citation is valid.”

The CVC also requires the examiner to provide a reason for his/her decision to the appellant. CVC statute 40215(c)(6): “The examiner’s decision following the administrative hearing may be personally delivered to the person by the examiner or sent by first-class mail, and, if the notice (citation) is not canceled, include a written reason for that denial.”

Harriet’s husband is taking the matter up with the Finance Department as well as the City Attorney’s Office. The city attorney has the responsibility for reviewing all documents such as notification letters sent to parking citation appellants.

However, last Tuesday, Harriet’s husband talked with the area director of operations for ACS/PVB. He was told City Hall was noticed of changes in the CVC effective Jan. 1, 2009 and City Hall did not authorize ACS/PVB to change the notification letters.

There appears to be problems with the parking citation appeals procedure. Therefore, a full and impartial review should be conducted to see if state statutes are being ignored by City Hall and/or its contractors. If so, corrections to notices and proper procedures must be implemented because appellants deserve more than “the citation is valid” for a reason. But, the bottom line is the courts may have to sort this all out.

I would also suggest any investigation include the hearing examiner (a licensed California attorney) to see whether proper procedures were followed as prescribed by the vehicle code. If proper procedures were not followed, those whose parking citations were upheld and if improperly noticed, should receive refunds of fines or bail money (which could total hundreds of thousands of dollars) and have their tickets dismissed.

There may be some light on the horizon. Don Patterson in the Finance Department who oversees ACS/PVB e-mailed, “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… . We have been in the process of reviewing and updating various parking-related notices over the past several months … .”

Still, Harriet says, “No matter how hungry the city is for revenue, it can’t break the law and violate statutory rights of its citizens.”

Amen.

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