When is a $40 parking ticket more than a parking ticket? When the ticketee is a successful trial attorney.
Brant Mittler, a tourist from Texas, is still "hopping mad" ??? his words ??? at getting a parking ticket in Laguna Beach on April 29 for having tires over the line in a parking space in the Glenneyre Street parking structure.
And Mittler isn't one to back down from a fight. He's a personal injury attorney and practicing cardiologist in San Antonio who has won some major health-care damage awards in his day.
So he's not afraid to take on the city of Laguna Beach over its practice of ticketing folks for parking their cars on or over parking spot lines.
Here's his story:
Mittler and his wife, Louise, were having a lovely time in Laguna and decided to have lunch at Nick's restaurant. They pulled their car into the parking structure in the alley behind the restaurant. When they returned from their tasty, $50 lunch, their stomachs turned over when they saw a $40 parking ticket on the windshield.
And for what? Not for exceeding the time limit, or impeding another car. No, it was for being a little over the inside line of the parking space marker.
"This is an outrageous kind of ticket to give," Mittler said. "It's a victimless crime. It's just a tax on visitors and residents alike. Having your tires touching the inner line of the parking spot endangers no one. I personally observed two cars/trucks given that type of ticket ??? one on the Thursday afternoon of my ticket and another the Friday night the day after. I think this 'tax' falls mostly on visitors."
He was so outraged that he says this is the last time they'll come to Laguna Beach.
"Even though my wife and I loved being in Laguna Beach, we'll not go back because of this kind of police action," he said. "After all, if they are that strict on parking, they probably give out speeding tickets for being 1 mile above the speed limit or not turning your turn signal on soon enough prior to your turn. Obviously this is a little 'ticket' trap and who wants to live in constant fear of the police? We had a great time in San Diego and La Jolla and didn't have to worry about the parking police."
He added: "The last time I checked, the economy is not that hot. People have a choice about where they spend their vacations, and we can choose to go elsewhere."
And can Laguna Beach really afford to lose tourists over a little line-crossing?
Irate, Mittler called the police department and talked to an officer who handles the parking ticket complaint calls. He says he didn't get much sympathy, nor did he get what he really wanted ??? a revocation of the ticket.
He also called this newspaper to vent and perhaps get some ink about the plight of the unwary tourist in Laguna who doesn't realize that being slightly over the line of a parking spot can cost you in this town.
That's how I came to learn of Mittler and his quest to set things right in Laguna with regard to over-the-line parking tickets.
Police Lt. Jason Kravetz explains it this way: "Over the lines means that you were parked outside the painted lines on the roadway. Your vehicle must be parked within these lines because it helps for orderly traffic control and adequate spacing between the vehicles."
Now the attorney has filed an appeal, as is his right, challenging the ticket on several grounds. But that's not all. He also requested statistics on the number of tickets given for "No Valid Space/Across Lines," which was the infraction noted on his ticket.
He received a prompt reply from the department informing him there were 2,365 such citations issued between July 1, 2009 and April 7, 2010. There are between 300 and 400 such citations per month, or about 4,200 a year. At $40 per citation, that's $168,000 in fines for this one infraction.
Apparently, this is the third-highest grossing vehicle infraction in Laguna. There are about 1,750 citations per month for expired meters, and about 450 per month for not having the proper registration tags.
Fourth-highest are tickets for parking on street-sweeping days, and fifth is parking in "no parking" zones.
It certainly seems as if going over the line on a parking spot ??? especially if no one is forced out of the next spot over ??? is less of a crime than parking your car where it's not supposed to be.
I know that it's not that easy to park exactly within the lines, since you can't see the lines after you pull into a space. I find myself frequently getting out of my car to look where my tires are placed, then getting back in and repositioning the car. And not everyone is going to do this ??? only someone like me who is fanatical about avoiding parking tickets and who also looks at the police logs every week and sees that there are a heck of a lot of tickets issued.
But back to our Don Quixote and his tilt at city parking tickets.
Mittler is also attacking the department's reliance on photos as proof of a violation, and is challenging the use of a third-party "collection agent." His appeal calls into question the "chain of evidence" of the photo and raises the issue of whether the photo could have been "altered electronically to show an infraction where none occurred." If he pursues this issue successfully in court, he could end up pulling the rug out from under the city's entire ticket enforcement system.
He is also not happy that he was told he would be able to view photos of the infraction online, but he found out the photos are only available after an appeal has been filed.
I sympathize with Mittler and his irritation, but I personally appreciate the parking lines because they are pretty generous (at least for my car) and I think they keep parking spots accessible. Especially in a very old city with antique streets built for horse-drawn wagons and dog carts, the lines do help.
A few weeks ago I left my car in the public lot on Laguna Canyon Road for an hour or two and when I returned some schmoe had pulled into the space next to mine about 5 inches from my car. He or she left a nice wide space to exit on the driver's side, but apparently thought it was just fine to block in the next person.
Incensed, I marched back to town, determined to find a police officer or meter reader to give this so-and-so a ticket. But I could not. Finally I gave up and climbed in through the passenger side, fuming all the while in my head.
I was "hopping mad" at the person who blocked me in ??? almost as much as Mittler is at the city for giving him a ticket.
All I can say is, I hope that person got a ticket. And I hope it sticks.
In closing, here's another pithy zinger from trial lawyer Mittler:
"We live in the No. 1 tourism city in Texas ??? San Antonio ??? and I can assure you that the police here do not hand out parking violations for such Mickey Mouse offenses. But, then, Mickey is a citizen of Orange County."