This past week I was in and out of parking structures a lot. I use the Downtown garages, on average, twice a day, but for some reason I had a lot of business to attend to Downtown. I frequently have to pay a dollar or two, sometimes much more and don’t really pay too much attention to it. I realize that money is needed to maintain buildings. I know that the structures are a public service, and I am very grateful that they are there.
Occasionally I have to park on the street. I hate the street parking in this city. It has become a giant morass of overlapping signs, conflicting information and the ever present possibility of a randomly assigned tax in the form of a parking ticket.
I was meeting friends for dinner at Tender Greens this past Tuesday and turned from Wilshire to Second Street. There was a line backed up on Second Street for the driveway into the parking structure, but luckily for me, there was an open spot on Second, just across from the restaurant. I slid my car into the spot and spent 30 seconds reading the street signs to figure out if I would be violating the patchwork of codes and regulations determining what day, what time of day and what length of time I was allowed to park.
After navigating the maze of municipal codes, I realized that I could indeed park in this spot for two hours, more than enough time for a quick mid-week dinner. I put my credit card in, put 90 minutes on the meter and went to dinner. You know where this is going.
Ninety-three minutes later I return to find a ticket on my car. The fine is $53. Can I blame anyone besides myself? No. Am I livid? Yes. I spend, on average, $50 a month in parking in Santa Monica alone, in addition to the paid parking I have at my gym.
There are almost no free spots left in this town. And what few there are City Hall is furiously tracking down to install meters or convert to permit parking.
I know that the parking meters are a civic necessity. They encourage turnover of parking spots that would otherwise be dominated by day users. They provide income to City Hall in the form of usage fees, but also the ever renewable resource of fines.
As our lovely city has grown from sleepy seaside retreat to mini-megalopolis, we need a greater police force and part of that police force is the parking patrol. It’s just like the animal control that makes sure we are not overrun with feral cats and dogs, and the occasional mountain lion who gets hungry.
But the fact that we need parking patrols doesn’t mean that I have to like them, or the way fines are set.
Fines are supposed to be punitive. They are supposed to encourage compliance with the law by making it unpalatable to pay the fine in place of obeying our government overlords. So a $53 fine for being three minutes over on a parking meter is painful, and it’s meant to be. The idea is to make me more aware the next time I park to avoid going over the time limits, and to make sure that I pay for the time I do use.
We are the beneficiaries of much in this city. The fact that we have so many parking garages Downtown is a good thing for the businesses and for those of us who use them. We have a plethora of lovely parks as a result of the taxes, fines and income City Hall generates. Life here is really wonderful compared to most other places. There’s a reason that there is so much free parking in Lancaster and Palmdale: who wants to live there?
So since I like living here, I’ll just pay the $53, and raise my hourly rates to compensate for the higher cost of living in this Pacific paradise. I learned long ago from a man named Harvey Mackay that if you are able to fix a problem by writing a check, you don’t have a real problem. I’ll just move past my anger and frustration over a little thing like a parking ticket and go on about enjoying the fine fall weather.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist (www.MensFamilylaw.com). He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra