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Amid Controversy, LADOT Says City Still Needs Parking Ticket Services that 'Gold Card' Offered

An L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) officer places a ticket on a pick-up truck in Highland Park

A little-known city service that provided extra attention to parking ticket complaints was shut down Friday, but officials want the services back in some form or another. Amir Sedadi, Interim General Manager of the city's transportation department, told a city panel today that he is working on an action plan to deal with constituents who receive parking tickets and may need a citation or penalties reduced due to extenuating circumstances.

The so-called "Gold Card Desk" was revealed to the public last week in an audit (.pdf) released by City Controller Wendy Greuel. The program allowed the Mayor, City Council and LADOT staff to usher constituents to a specialized two-person unit that handled tickets complaints. "This appears to suggest you need political pull to expedite the investigation of a ticket," she said.

1,000 tickets were canceled in a two-year period under the desk. A sample of 40 audited by Greuel's team suggested some tickets were rescinded without cause.

Overall, Gruel found it frustrating that there were no comprehensive policies or procedures in canceling tickets and called for the program to be shut down. Although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office defended the program at first--a spokesperson told the LA Times it was open to everyone, not just VIPs and insiders--he ordered its termination last Friday. "Every member of the public deserves equal treatment and even the appearance of preferential treatment is unacceptable," he wrote in a letter to Sedadi.

KCET's SoCal Connected obtained several internal e-mails that showed complaining to a city council member or sharing a sob story may have been key to gaining access to the desk.

And that's what Sedadi said would still need to be addressed, with or without the "Gold Card Desk," which he admitted had an unfortunate name that skewed perception of the program. "There is not a magic card to get out of a ticket," Sedadi explained to the City Council Audits and Governmental Efficiency Committee on Tuesday. He described the program as an extension of constituent services to help members of the public who may have been given a ticket under extenuating circumstances, such as hospitalization or an arrest. He told the committee that he wanted to enhance the parking citation process down the road.

"Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have ordered DOT to discontinue the Gold Card Desk, but that service will still have to be provided," says Daily News columnist Kerry Cavanaugh. "For example, one DOT staffer said he referred the case of a Pennsylvania woman whose college student daughter had her car impounded in L.A. after racking up a bunch of parking tickets. The mom was undergoing chemotherapy and in financial trouble. After verifying her medical condition and monetary situation, the Gold Card Desk created a payment plan so she could get the car out of impound."
After the meeting, Sedadi further explained to KCET that at the Mayor's request, he is working "to establish a uniform system available to everyone for contesting their parking citations." A uniform system already exists--you can contest a ticket and if still found valid, can request an adjudication hearing--but details of any new implementations to the customer service process were not immediately available.

As far as the 1,000 tickets dismissed under the program in 2009 and 2010, Gruel and City Councilman Dennis Zine, who heads the committee, will examine the paper trail. "It may be embarrassing to people," Zine said. "It may be somewhat embarrassing to the administration of the city."

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user waltarrrr. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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