The 72-hour rule

Why should L.A. let peo­ple park on city streets for only three days? Why not five days, or a week?

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY OPINION -

When a West Los An­ge­les cou­ple re­turned from a five-day va­ca­tion in Septem­ber, they dis­cov­ered that their car had been towed from a res­i­den­tial street near their home. Had they flouted some posted park­ing reg­u­la­tion? No, they had vi­o­lated a decades-old L.A. mu­nic­i­pal or­di­nance they had never heard of that pro­hibits park­ing a ve­hi­cle on the street in the same spot for more than 72 hours. The cou­ple have filed suit against the city, ar­gu­ing that it vi­o­lated their right to due process be­cause there is no sig­nage about the 72-hour limit.

The city’s at­tor­neys noted in their brief that “ig­no­rance of the law is no de­fense” — even as they ac­knowl­edged that a sign “would have been a use­ful re­minder.” They’re right that peo­ple should know the ba­sic city­wide rules of the road. There’s no need to post signs telling driv­ers not to park next to fire hy­drants or red curbs. Is it re­ally nec­es­sary to post the 72-hour rule on ev­ery block in the city, adding to the al­ready tot­ter­ing totem poles of signs on many city streets?

On the other hand, per­haps the three­day rule is tougher than nec­es­sary. It is de­signed, city of­fi­cials say, to rid the city of ve­hi­cles that are stored or aban­doned on the street, some­times in de­bil­i­tated, un­sightly con­di­tion. It’s not in­tended to snare res­i­dents with­out garages who scram­ble to find street park­ing or peo­ple who leave town for a week. Nor should it be used as a drag­net for roust­ing home­less peo­ple living in their ve­hi­cles. (Last year, a fed­eral ap­peals court struck down the city’s ban on home­less peo­ple living in their cars.)

Cur­rently, a park­ing en­force­ment of­fi­cer will check on a ve­hi­cle only in re­sponse to a com­plaint. The of­fi­cer re­turns 72 hours later, and if the car has not been moved, the of­fi­cer leaves a ci­ta­tion (in­clud­ing a fine) on the car, warn­ing that it must be moved within 24 hours or be sub­ject to tow­ing. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port for the City Coun­cil by the city’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, the depart­ment re­ceived 71,671 com­plaints about ve­hi­cles be­ing stored or aban­doned on the streets last year. It ul­ti­mately towed only 4,539 cars. In other words, most cars were moved.

So why not ex­tend the 72-hour time limit to five days or a week — and then give the vi­o­la­tor a ci­ta­tion warn­ing that the ve­hi­cle must be moved within sev­eral days or it will be towed? A truly aban­doned car will still be there for the tow truck. And car own­ers who went out of town for a week will be back in time to move it.

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