July 26, 2011

By the people, for the people and screw the people

Whichever side of the political spectrum you're on, it's easy to get riled up about the government these days.

On the national scene, Democrats, Republicans and Tea Baggers all all hate Washington because - respectively - Congressional leadership, the president and space-aliens-from-god-knows-where are out to run our country into the ground. In case you haven't seen it yet, a #F---YouWashington hashtag has been lighting up Twitter for the past few weeks, prompted mostly by this debt ceiling fiasco, which seems mostly to be an excuse for the ultra-tan John Boehner to get some extra broadcast time for his apparently limitless collection of unabashedly green neckwear.

Here in California, the state is something like $600 trillion in debt (I might be exaggerating a bit), the public education system is one of the worst in the nation and ... I imagine there are lots of other nasty problems, too, but the weather is so nice, who can complain?

The point is: We're all used to bitching and moaning about getting taxed to hell and screwed over by the jerks in federal and state government. That's old news. Somehow it seems worse when you learn that you've been getting royally hosed by your local government. People who are your neighbors. But another wonderful - and very creative - example of that came to light today in Los Angeles.

The city is deciding whether to discontinue its controversial red-light traffic camera program - where motorists get their photos taken by automatic cameras when they run red lights, and then have to pay a whopping fine, on the order of $480. The main issue being that although they generate a lot of tickets, they're not actually an effective traffic safety mechanism, which should have been the point.
Now, it turns out, those "fines" for running red lights weren't actually fines so much as they were, um, suggested donations. Today, in an L.A. Times blog post, the esteemed* city councilman Bill Rosendahl explains:
"The consequence is somebody calling you from one of these collection agencies and saying 'pay up.' And that's it. There's no real penalty in terms of your driver's license or any other consequences if you don't pay."

Yep. Turns out that the tickets were actually part of a "voluntary payment program." As in optional. As in, keep that horrible black-and-white traffic-camera photo, keep your money and treat yourself to a weekend getaway instead.

Caught on camera.
Which I'm guessing wasn't exactly made clear on the violation notices. And, which I'm guessing is going to be news to all of those people who assumed that the traffic tickets they got in the mail from the City of Los Angeles and that huge Amount Due were - how do I put this? - real.
Wonder what other Los Angeles fines and fees I've been paying that are actually voluntary payment programs. Only one way to find out....
* "Esteemed" in the same sense that the tickets seemed "voluntary."


bugs said...

man! that's so very fabulous. what a waste of $ to install all of those cameras and then have no enforcement to collect the $ on fines. seriously well-thought-out. nicely done, l.a.
(whose photo is that, btw?!)

Your escalator operator said...

B - it's Jason Bateman, in a still from Horrible Bosses. His character speeds through a red light in his Prius and gets nabbed by one of those cameras.

Anonymous said...

We have those cameras here in Memphis as well. I wonder if they are "optional". Question tho... if a collection agency calls you and tells you to pay up... isn't that going against your credit? Or no? And as far as your local government putting the screws to you; thats SO happening right here as well. Our school district can't pay their past bills putting the start of school in jeopardy. (They've discussed putting it off until October.) Our city is in debt up to it's swampy ass. The flood this spring isn't the worst thing to happen to Memphis... our Gov'mnt is doing a pretty good job of drowning us too. :( *gets down off soap box*

Your escalator operator said...

C - Thanks for reading, and thanks for the comment!

The Los Angeles Times today reported that the city council voted unanimously to end the program. The credit score question was addressed (although not very clearly) in that story: "...recent news that motorists in L.A. County can decline to pay or appear in court on camera-issued tickets without facing criminal charges, problems with the Department of Motor Vehicles or negative reports on credit scores, appeared to unite the council on Wednesday."

The article also noted that those who don't pay their tickets would also face the problem of having outstanding tickets show up on their records when potential employers conduct background checks.

Sorry to hear about school funding troubles in Memphis as well. A sad state of affairs, but clearly not confined to our two cities.

Anonymous said...

Are you Sh****** me? This is infuriating! My partner got hit with one of those (and its a lot closer to $600 once you add in the penalty fees and other administrative crap they tack on...) This was really particularly damaging to our financial situation because we are living hand to mouth as it is, often a month behind every utility bill and on the edge of losing them because of this fine, which would never have been issued by a conscientious officer in the first place.

I am glad they are doing away with those devices, but you think they will return the funds the people were bullied into paying by a machine that they aren't able to confront in court?

I've had quite a bit more than enough of corporate interests taking advantage of actual people so that the profit margins can increase. About ready to stand in a field during a lightning storm on the off chance of getting some super-powers with which to start whooping jack@$$e$$!

Your escalator operator said...

D - The standing out in the field thing? I get that. I believe I saw it reported that even though the fines were considered "voluntary," nobody would be eligible to receive refunds once the fines were paid. Frustrating all the way around.

Thanks very much for checking out the blog!

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