NOMA — It’s a demoralizing feeling, and one that, for many Santa Monicans, is all too familiar: Just as you’re getting in your car, there on the windshield, flapping in the wind, is a parking ticket — a $61 reminder not to ignore your block’s weekly street sweeping rules.
For the chronically forgetful, there’s a new savior in town — a company created recently by two friends in the North of Montana neighborhood called The Ticket Angels that offers a guarantee you’ll never pay a street sweeping citation again.
The venture works like this: For a $60 annual fee, the Ticket Angels promise to comb your block just before a possible visit from City Hall’s parking enforcement team each and every day you could get a street sweeping ticket. If they see your car in jeopardy, they’ll notify you with a phone call, a text message or a knock at the door in time so you can move out of the way and avoid a ticket.
If the Ticket Angels don’t live up to their promise, they’ll pay your ticket. If you change your ways and never need a reminder to move your car, they’ll give you a refund.
To founders Matthew Parker, 30, and Christopher Harati, 26, Santa Monica was the perfect place to launch the business.
“The signs are insanely complicated,” Parker, a Michigan native, said. “Santa Monica is known all up and down the West Coast as being one of the worst places to park … . People live in fear of parking here, so we’re trying to alleviate that.”
A notable example of Santa Monica’s notoriously rigorous parking enforcement took place last month, when a TV reporter for KTLA news received several parking tickets during a live broadcast from a beach parking lot in town.
Ticket Angels got its start this year after Parker reminded Harati to move his car to avoid a ticket on the Santa Monica block where the two were neighbors. For Harati, originally from Irvine, it was a light bulb moment. Soon after, they set their sights on building the new company.
Each year, the city of Santa Monica takes in $13 million from parking violations, and Parker and Harati hope they can turn a large part of that amount into profits. And with cities throughout California operating under similar street sweeping rules as Santa Monica, they see the potential for a big expansion.
“If you take all of L.A., and all of the outlying areas, it’s hundreds of millions of dollars” that’s spent on parking tickets, Parker said.
Since they began seeking subscribers two months ago the, Ticket Angels have signed up more than 60 clients, mainly in the North of Montana area. They hope to soon cover all of Santa Monica.
To make their ticket-preventing rounds, one business partner rides a Vespa to scout for cars on the verge of being ticketed while the other monitors the company’s database of contact information. They stay in contact via walkie-talkies.
So far, they say not a single subscriber has been hit with a street sweeping citation and they’ve prevented $12,000 in parking fines.
For the company’s subscribers, the service is about saving money, but also about peace of mind.
“I think the problem really stems from the fact that I have three children and I can’t remember anything anymore,” said Ally Walker, an early Ticket Angels adopter who estimated she used to get two street sweeping tickets per month.
The Ticket Angels knocked on her door and helped her avoid a ticket a couple of months ago, and she signed up for the service on the spot.
“I think if the tickets were a little less expensive I’d be a little less upset about it,” she said. But $61 is “too a high a price to pay for being really forgetful.”
And the cost could be going up.
The City Council last month said it would consider increasing parking violation fines to help boost revenue for the Big Blue Bus, which needs more money to prevent service cuts. The council is expected to consider that idea, along with other possible fee increases, sometime this summer.
Roy Newman, a lawyer who lives north of Montana Avenue, said he was skeptical about the business plan at first but was impressed that Parker and Harati seemed to have done all their homework before launching the service.
“I’d much rather give them the money than the city of Santa Monica,” he said.
Though he’s not a chronic ticket-getter, Newman said it’s almost impossible to never slip up. With two days of street sweeping per week, that’s 104 chances per year to get a ticket.
“It frees you up to not have to worry about it so much because you know they’re going to notify you if you forget,” he said of the service.
If the company makes a serious dent in the number of parking violations issued in town, they’ll have accomplished something City Hall could not, said Don Patterson, who oversees Santa Monica’s parking operations.
“We’ve done various outreach, we’ve done various signs, and we’ve not seen parking citation revenue decrease,” he said. Street sweeping occurs at the same time each week, he noted, yet people continue to forget.
Whether the Ticket Angels are the answer people have been waiting for remains to be seen.
“I would just say that it will be interesting to watch,” Patterson said.
The company has pledged to donate 10 percent of profits to the Santa Monica-based non-profit Children’s Lifesaving Foundation, where Parker has volunteered since shortly after moving to California last year to work in the film industry. Harati also moved to Santa Monica to concentrate on film.
The foundation’s chief operating officer, Francesca McCaffery, said she was happy to partner with a startup that’s doing something new and can save people money in a difficult economy.
“It’s so forward thinking and I think a lot of residents in the Santa Monica community feel the same way,” she said. “We love where we live, but sometimes you feel a tiny bit targeted by the meter maids.”