this life in LA- parking tickets (and how I got mine refunded!)

I’ve lived in LA for the better part of 10 months now. While I’ve been finding my way on the roads through the crazy traffic and terrible (read: ignorant and insensitive) drivers, I’ve learned there’s even another worry on the roads of Los Angeles: parking tickets.

When I first arrived, I vowed to never EVER get a parking ticket here. California is essentially bankrupt and Los Angeles is out to get everyone with their ridiculously over-priced parking tickets. I did not want to waste my money on that, obviously. So every time I park anywhere, I read and re-read all the signs, I check and double-check the color of the curb, I make sure my car (a tiny Ford Fiesta hatchback, bought specifically for the move to LA) is in the proper confines of the parking spot, and I check all the cars around my to be sure they’re not doing anything special that my car should be doing. When I park in unfamiliar areas, I still walk away from my car wondering if I’m somehow “illegally” parked because I’m not in the know of the rules of the area. Being that careful should be a surefire way to avoid an unnecessary fine, right?

Nope. Wrong. Apparently.

I work on a street that is permit parking only during the entirety of the hours I’m there. I have a visitor parking pass that I display every day from my rearview mirror so that the parking enforcement officers can see that I am legally parked there. Except for that one day I forgot to hang it up.

It was a Thursday, and I remember walking back to the house from The Grove, around 12 noon (having been parked since 9am). I was at the opposite end of the street from my car when it all came crashing into  my mind- “Oh no! My parking pass … crap! It’s still in the glove compartment!” As I approached my car, I saw the tell-tale red and white envelope placed between the windshield and the windshield wiper. Opening it, I found I would now be out $63. What a WASTE of money for a stupid mistake.

I remembered my employer getting a ticket for not having her parking pass properly displayed, and she waved it off saying how it would be easy to fight, she’d just say the pass fell down. I didn’t want to pay the fine, but I also didn’t want to lie. And doing some research online led me to believe that it wouldn’t be easy to contest the ticket either. But I decided it was worth trying to contest it than to just pay the fine blindly.

I was told on the ticket that I had three weeks to either pay the fine or contest the ticket. I could contest it in writing or I could go to the office and try it in person. I am so much better at getting things done through words. I love words. I love putting them together to make them flow. I love having time to carefully plan what I want to say. I love how that time allows me to find a good use of rhetoric. So naturally, I contested the ticket through writing.

I don’t have a printer easily accessible to me, so I (apprehensively) wrote out my contestation with pen and paper. I decided I wouldn’t say anything about having the parking pass visible or not, I would just state the facts of how I park on that street every Monday-Thursday because it is where I am employed, and I have a parking pass, and I always hang it on the rearview mirror just as the directions ask. I included a photocopy of my parking pass. I just wanted to state the facts and see what would happen with them. It was clearly my mistake for forgetting to hang up the parking pass, but I was hoping for a bit of grace.

I got a letter a week later telling me that my ticket was still valid and now I had to pay it within three weeks or I would incur even more fines. I could also try and further contest the ticket by asking for a hearing. I figured that was the end of it, and at least I tried. I had no time whatsoever to go to court and ramble about “the facts,” and risk needing to directly answer the inevitable question “Was your parking pass clearly hanging on your rearview mirror?” I was in the wrong, and at least I tried. So it was over … or was it?

I found also in that second letter that I could request a hearing by mail if I so desired. Yes, please! I once again drafted a letter with pen and paper that looked almost identical to the first I had sent. I stated the facts and didn’t fudge the truth. I also included a photo copy of my parking permit that was identical to the first photo copy, and at this point in the month, that actual permit was expired, so I mailed the physical permit as well. I ended the letter with something along the lines of “I do not know what other evidence I can offer to prove my case except to ask you to take me at my word. I ask that you refund this ticket immediately so that no one else’s time is wasted.”

I sealed it up (along with a $63 check), put it in the mail, and hoped for the best.

A week later I received a letter telling me that my hearing had been scheduled and they would let me know the results accordingly.

Another week and I got what I was looking for in the mail. The first words I saw on the letter were “refund amount: $63” … WHAT?! The rest of the letter outlines what the parking rules are for the street. It outlines what I wrote in my letters, and it is clear when lining the two paragraphs up that I am in the wrong. But then the second page says something wonderful:

… under the particular circumstances of this case, it is evident that Respondent made an error … although parking without a permit visible is technically a violation, the circumstances warrant extending a courtesy dismissal for the citation in the interest of justice …

In the interest of JUSTICE? There are just people in LA? A courtesy dismissal?! Clearly, I caught someone on a good day. June 6, 2012 the stars aligned and someone was in a good enough mood to dismiss my parking ticket. I got a refund check in the mail a week later, and depositing that $63 back into my bank account was ridiculously satisfying.

I’m not saying this will work for everyone (and neither is the city of Los Angeles, as the rest of the letter reads “The Hearing Examiner’s decision for this case is not intended to establish a legal precedent for any other parking citation case …”), but hey, it’s worth a try, right? Sometimes when you catch people in a good mood, wonderful things happen.

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