Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Thursday that would have required cities to forgive parking tickets for homeless Californians.
The move was a disappointment for anti-poverty advocates across the state — who have warned that parking-ticket late fees can lead to more debt for already low-income people — and a win for cities that receive revenue from those tickets.
"I am sympathetic to the author's intent to provide financial relief to extremely low-income Californians, but a statewide requirement for parking ticket forgiveness may not be the best approach," Newsom said in his veto message Thursday night.
Assembly Bill 1685 would have required local governments and universities that issue parking tickets to forgive at least $1,500 in fines each year for Californians who prove they are living unhoused.
The bill aimed to block attempts by local agencies to seek collections from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which puts holds on vehicle registrations due to unpaid parking tickets, a policy that can lead people unable to pay to lose their vehicles altogether.
Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which supported the bill, was surprised by Newsom's decision and called it "a very disappointing veto."
"This is going to mean that people lose their vehicles over minor unpaid parking tickets," he said. "It means they are going to be punished because they're poor."
Newsom pointed to existing local programs that already forgive some parking ticket debt for those who are homeless, and to "safe parking" programs designed to support Californians living out of their cars.
In his veto message Thursday night, he signaled that he is open to working on a different solution, but said that this bill had problems, including the lack of a limit to the number of times a person could seek relief from the program.
For people like Kia Dupclay, who was homeless on and off for a decade starting when she was just 14 years old, parking tickets became an unexpected financial barrier that she said prolonged her instability.
As a victim of sex trafficking in the Oakland area, Dupclay sometimes lived out of her car. At one point, she had accrued more than $3,000 in parking tickets, which led to more fines for late fees, tows and related costs for penalties at the DMV. That led to her license being suspended, which in turn delayed her ability to secure a job, she said.
“Those things started to pile up. Everything trickles down and becomes a consequence,” said Dupclay, now 29 and an advocate for homeless victims of human trafficking in Los Angeles. “Over time, as I’m worried about housing, and bouncing around pillow to pillow and sleeping in my car, the last thing I was worried about was paying a traffic ticket.
“It was the last thing on my mind when I needed basic necessities like food and clothes,” she said.
Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) wrote the bill, and said that too often, one ticket can trigger a spiral of debt and worsened poverty.
Bryan used Sacramento as an example: five unpaid parking tickets in the city would result in $520 in late fees alone.
“Instead of continuing to penalize poverty, let’s save some money with good policy and use it to get people more of the housing and services they really need,” Bryan said during the legislative process. “Lose your financial stability, lose your house. Lose your house, live in your car. Lose your car, set up an encampment.”
The bill faced wide opposition, including from the California Mobility and Parking Assn. and the California League of Cities.
The League of Cities urged legislative leadership not to approve the bill unless the state would backfill lost revenue in local budgets brought in from parking tickets.
The group said the program would increase illegal parking and require burdensome work for city officials to validate drivers' homelessness. Under AB 1685, ticketing agencies would have had to verify proof of homelessness through healthcare and legal services providers or other organizations.
"Parking enforcement serves the vital functions of helping cities keep streets and water systems clean (street sweeping), perform essential public works (i.e., tree trimming, sidewalk repair), ensure access to business and government services by promoting turnover and promoting alternative modes of transportation in heavily congested areas," the League of Cities said in a letter to lawmakers in August. "Without appropriate levels of fines, drivers will simply ignore these rules, making it incredibly challenging to meet these multifaceted goals."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti opposed AB 1685, saying it overrides a program created there that forgives $1,500 in parking tickets to homeless drivers in exchange for community service.
"There's no need to end a program that has allowed us to engage more than 1,900 people experiencing homelessness and helped connect them with the services and support they need," Jose "Che" Ramirez, Garcetti's deputy mayor of homelessness services said in a statement.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.