By Jason Islas
September 19, 2012 -- The end of August also meant the end of a year-long battle between the City of Santa Monica and two residents over a $64 parking ticket.
Harriet and Stanley Epstein walked away with $12,500 and the City paid $65,000 to their attorney after the protracted battle came to an end on August 28, more than a year after the couple filed a suit after failing to receive an eplaination of why their appeal of a parking ticket was denied.
The settlement, Stanley Epstein said, was revised down from the $15,000, and $80,000 in legal fees, they had asked for originally.
“I don't think anybody anticipated that we would spend over a year trying to reach a resolution,” said Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner.
Epstein -- who claims the threat of litigation pressured the City to change its policies -- filed the law suit in June 2011 after the City denied the appeal of a ticket his wife received for parking at a park while she ran errands.
Epstein claims that the City did not offer adequate explanation as to why the appeal was denied, which is required by State law.
Shortly before the Epsteins filed their case, the City changed its policy about notifying people of the reasons their appeals were denied, but officials maintain that it had nothing to do with the then-pending Epstein suit.
“I think the City improved its processes with the amount of information it provides,” said Schachtner.
Officials maintained that the change was a result of several residents complaining that denial of their appeals were not adequately explained.
But Epstein sees the lawsuit as the source of the change.
“This is a rare instance of the City having to account for their mistakes,” he said. “The City now has to give motorists a reason that their appeals have been denied.”
City officials didn't want a fight.
“We were on the settlement path from the very beginning,” said Schachtner.
In February, the City Council voted to accept a settlement similar to the one the Epsteins accepted six months later, but at the time, the Epsteins walked away because, according to Stanley Epstein, the couple had not agreed to the settlement.
In June 2012, the council voted to stop negotiations, finally voting to settle in August.
Payments from parking violations are becoming an increasing source of revenue for Santa Monica.
In 2009, the City Council hiked its parking fines from $40 to $47 for expired meters and from $52 to $62 for street sweeping and preferential parking violations. Coupled with increased enforcement, parking fines were expected to generate an additional $2.2 annually.
Earlier this year, the City began installing meter sensors that alert officers when meters expired and do not allow motorists to recharge meters if they have reached the maximum time allowed. The new system is expected to generate an additional $1.7 million a year in revenues.