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Opinion: Use of Official City Parking Permits Questioned

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Opinion and Commentary by Chris Bray

I blame the salmon.

A few weeks ago, a story in the Weho News described rumors about former city officials continuing to use their official parking passes after they left City Hall. The officials denied it, and city parking staff said that neither official still had a valid government parking permit in their possession.

But all of those denials miss the point. For years, I’ve seen cars parked all over the city — for free, in front of parking meters flashing “0:00” — with a whole variety of city government parking passes: “City Council,” “City Commission,” “Official Business.” Lately, a car in my own neighborhood has been parked on the street, night after night, with one of the “Official Business” permits hanging from the rear view mirror. That’s some unusual official business that requires a city employee to be parked at the same address all night, every night.

I ignored that car in my neighborhood for a long time, but finally took pictures of it after I read the city’s confident claim that its official parking permits are well controlled and carefully used. We all know this: those permits are a way for city officials to escape parking tickets and avoid feeding the meters. It’s another privilege for a group of people who already have plenty of privileges. If you live here and have eyes, you’ve seen the evidence yourself.

The thing that struck me about the “Official Business” permit I saw in my own neighborhood was its number: OB-0062. If these permits are numbered sequentially, then there are at least several dozen of them floating around our 1.9 square-mile city. If every city employee gets one, and every city commissioner gets one, and every member of the city council gets one, then there are something closer to 300 of these permits on our streets, each one granting its user free parking and telling the city’s parking enforcement contractor not to put citations on that car.

I have to resort to this formulation — “if” every city employee gets one — because the city won’t say. I asked how many official parking permits are in circulation. They didn’t answer. I asked what rules govern their use. They didn’t answer. I’m waiting for a response to my public records request for the list of permit holders. We’ll see.

But when I watch all of this happen, I remember the salmon. And it colors my reaction. During the last city council campaign, a candidate raised a series of questions about the use of city credit cards by city employees. We eventually got to see some of the credit card receipts. Among them was a May 18, 2010 receipt from Cecconi’s for a $674 dinner for seven people: three city officials and four members of the Sheriff’s Department command staff. Three had the “SP Wild Salmon,” for $225. That means three public employees, having dinner on the taxpayers, each decided it would be a good idea to have a $75 entree.

The lack of judgment and restraint shines right through that decision. You can’t make that choice if you have a sense of perspective — you have to have a strong sense of entitlement. You have to be privileged, and you have to perceive yourself as being privileged.

The same goes for those cars in front of the flashing meters, displaying “Official Business” permits while everyone else on the street fed the meter. You couldn’t spare a quarter?

At some point, the city has to come clean: how many of these permits are in circulation, and what are the rules? These aren’t complicated questions. And they speak to a larger set of questions about how the people at City Hall perceive themselves and their relationship to the rest of us. I doubt I’d be able to stomach an honest answer to those larger questions.

Chris Bray is a PhD candidate at UCLA, and a former soldier and journalist. He has lived in Weho for eight years.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Don

    July 16, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    This is very sad … how can they be trusted at all??

  2. Jeff Atwood

    July 16, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Let’s write the mayor and ask him: jduran@weho.org

  3. Greg

    July 16, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Meanwhile, the City of WeHo has no compunction over denouncing other cities & states for their policies with which it disagrees. No doubt the abuse & misuse of $$ goes much deeper than this. This just proves that, left or right, most public officials have an unchecked sense of entitlement and feel no need to answer to the “little people” who pay their salaries.

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