The City of Los Angeles has suspended impounding cars over unpaid parking tickets — at least for now.
According to an internal memo signed by Brian Hale, the chief of Parking Enforcement for the City of LA, the city is halting all towing and booting of vehicles in violation of the scofflaw ordinance, which mandates the impounding of vehicles that have accrued five or more unpaid parking citations.
The temporary suspension is the result of a pretrial ruling in a lawsuit against the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT). A judge recently dismissed the city’s attempt to dismiss the suit filed by Koreatown resident Breonnah Fitzpatrick, who sued the LADOT last summer after her car was impounded, although it was allegedly legally parked.
Fitzpatrick admits she owed $9,000 from nearly 48 parking tickets, largely due to challenges with finding street parking in her heavily dense neighborhood when many people are working from home.
LADOT told Fitzpatrick that her car wouldn’t be released until she paid $5,000 of the debt. Her attorney, Donald W. Cook, says the city’s impounding practice is reminiscent of tactics by the fictional mobster, Tony Soprano.
“Whatever the merits of the dispute between the car owner and the city over parking tickets, you don't coerce payment by taking the car and holding it as ransom, which is what the city was doing.”
Cook claims that ordinance unfairly targets the most economically disadvantaged Angelenos, often people of color who cannot afford parking or garage services.
“Victims are going to be people like Breonnah Fitzpatrick, people who just make enough to pay the bills and don't have the resources to fight City Hall over this kind of practice. Most of the people that the city collects money from, like parking tickets, tend to be people at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.”
Cook estimates that some 4,000 cars are towed every year because of unpaid parking tickets. He claims that his client understands the possible ripple effects of her lawsuit against the city.
“This is not just a lawsuit on her own behalf. This is a lawsuit on behalf of literally thousands of people each year who have had their cars towed.”
Cook adds that vehicle owners are getting wise to the parking and impound practices of cities in the regions, and city governments might face further legal challenges in the future.
“Cities are facing a real issue over these day-to-day practices they use to seize cars. They are facing some serious constitutional challenges from a number of different courts and a number of different states that are starting to have a real impact on how they can extort payments from car owners,” Cook says.
LADOT will still tow vehicles for other reasons, including those that are improperly parked or presenting a traffic hazard.
KCRW reached out to the City Attorney’s Office about the impound change but has not received a response yet.