The situation, slightly simplified

  • A grumpy old man lives on a street in front of a school. He does not like school traffic in the mornings and afternoons.
  • This man sits on the city council.
  • He occasionally directs the city parking enforcement to harass drivers by issuing citations under incorrect (or sometimes marginally correct) interpretations of the vehicle code. Typical citation is around $40.
  • These citations are issued by photographing license plates and mailing "courtesy reminders" in the mail. There is no attempt to issue a citation directly to the drivers. Most drivers do not know they are being cited when it happens. This allows the city to issue a lot of citations very quickly.
  • The location is a smallish city in LA county California.

The question

Is the city violating any laws with this behavior?

The thought process so far

Obviously each individual citation can/should be challenged, often successfully. However this is a lot of work, when the city can (and does) issue dozens of citations in a few minutes.

It seems difficult (to me) to draw a distinction between an occasional error on the part of the issuing officer, and egregious misbehavior. Clearly issuing officers make occasional honest mistakes. It seems somehow different to intentionally give out a dozen citations for an clearly incorrect interpretation of the law. But I can't figure out when that line is crossed, or if there is even a line there.

When (successfully, yea) challenging a previous citation, the judge (maybe magistrate, I'm not sure) indicating that issuing tickets this way violates CA VEH 40202. However, as I read that code, I can't tell in plain language if this issuing behavior is allowed or not.

Yet more detail If it's relevant, the specific citations I have received are for the following

  • 15.64.290 When I had to stop on the sidewalk as I entered the school driveway, due to the flow of traffic.
  • 15.20070 When I had to momentarily stop on the street, prior to entering the school driveway. Again, this was due to the flow of traffic. (There is a "No Stopping" sign on the street, which prevents vehicles from letting students out on the street itself.)

In when questioned on citations of this type, the city's position is that drivers should circle the block if they are not able to cleanly enter the driveway without stopping. This is inconsistently applied.

As a further example: I'm pretty sure I recently saw a citation issued to another driver who stopped on the street to allow pedestrians to clear the sidewalk which crosses the driveway entrance.

  • 5
    When is the next city council election? I imagine this man is quite unpopular, so he'll probably get voted out?
    – Someone
    Oct 6, 2022 at 6:01
  • 1
    For purposes of this question we can assume this individual is better a local politics than I am. :)
    – Pursuit
    Oct 6, 2022 at 16:00
  • 1
    Roughly, what you reckon is the percentage of citations that are likely to be cancelled through the court if challenged?
    – Greendrake
    Oct 6, 2022 at 17:27
  • For some time periods, >90%. (At others, maybe 10%, although the CA VEH 40202 interpretation could move that higher.) The intent of my question is related to a >90% assumption. Consider a situation of 10 -- 20 court-cancellable citations issued sequentially in 10 minutes.
    – Pursuit
    Oct 6, 2022 at 17:46
  • "stop" is not defined in the parking code, but the definition in the California vehicle code is incorporated by reference. This definition explicitly excludes stopping "when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic" (among other reasons). If you've stopped because there is a car or pedestrian occupying the space where you intend to go (among other reasons), you are not in violation of any prohibition against "stopping" under either the parking code or the vehicle code.
    – phoog
    Oct 6, 2022 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


Short Answer

There is probably nothing you can do to challenge a pattern of aggressive parking enforcement other than to contest invalidly issued tickets and to avoid violating parking laws as the officials enforcing those laws interpret those laws.

Long Answer

The Only Potential Legal Issue

These citations are issued by photographing license plates and mailing "courtesy reminders" in the mail. There is no attempt to issue a citation directly to the drivers. Most drivers do not know they are being cited when it happens. This allows the city to issue a lot of citations very quickly.

This is the only potential issue. A citation is only valid if it is served properly. Most of the time, this is done by leaving a ticket physically on a car or handing it to a driver.

It isn't unconstitutional to take a photo and mail a citation to a driver. Legally upheld photo radar speeding and stop light and toll road violation programs do this all the time. But, the communication by mail needs to clearly state that someone is indeed being cited for the ticket to be valid.

What The City Is Allowed To Do

Issuing large numbers of tickets based upon complaints from citizens or politicians is perfectly valid.

Likewise, a city is not required to consistently enforce its laws so long as the inconsistent enforcement isn't pervasively (perhaps 95%+) driving by a covert racial basis motive.

There is also the concept of an equal protection violation in which a law is only ever enforced against a single particular individual out of animosities of the people enforcing the law for unrelated reasons like personal disputes between them.

But there is no indication in the question that this pattern of enforcement is driven either by a pervasive racial bias on the part of the enforcement officials (as opposed to the complaining persons), or that this is targeted at anyone for reasons unrelated to the underlying conduct giving rise to the tickets.

As the question indicates, the availability of an ability to contest the tickets before a magistrate is a legally adequate remedy to issuance of parking tickets that are not supported by the legislation on the books.

Also, while a court will sometimes issue a declaratory judgment or an injunction to direct a city not to improperly enforce a law against lawful conduct, usually in the context of a state or federal regulatory agency enforcement scheme, this is the rare exception. An injunction or declaratory judgment action will generally only succeed if an agency has a formal policy of enforcing a law in circumstances that are not actually illegal. It isn't available to address a high "error rate" in terms of issuance citations that ultimately don't hold up in court, although a high rate of successful ticket contests will usually get the attention of the managers of the public officials who are issuing the invalid tickets.

Non-Legal Solutions

Any "solution" to the problem would have to be non-legal, such as raising the issue at a city council meeting and securing a commitment form the Mayor or other city council people to address the issue with the traffic enforcement officers (or by changing the parking rules in that neighborhood to establish more realistic rule).

Another approach would be to talk to the person making the complaints and to the parking enforcement officers and/or their managers, in a way that encourages a different course of action.

  • 1) Is there a reference defining what constitutes a "citation to be served properly"? 2) Is the remedy for an improperly served citation is the same as for a citation that is not supported by the legislation on the books? (I.E. contest the citation via the standard process.)
    – Pursuit
    Oct 6, 2022 at 18:49
  • 1
    @Pursuit (1) Normally this would be set forth in the parking ordinance of the municipality. (2) If the citation isn't properly served, a fine issued if you failed to appear to contest it could also be collaterally attacked anyway in a separate civil action or as a defense to an enforcement action on the grounds that the magistrate didn't have jurisdiction to enter the fine order.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 7, 2022 at 0:51

If you've violated a traffic law, then a ticket is valid, even if the law is enforced obnoxiously. If you haven't, then you should challenge the ticket. Perhaps this man will stop his behavior if it doesn't work.

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