Shortly before noon on Thursday, Dec. 5, Lilly Martinez drove down from Mount Washington to Highland Park in her Nissan Quest sedan for the “teacher’s lunch,” an errand that she runs weekly with practiced ease as an administrative assistant and office technician at Mount Washington Elementary School.
It took Martinez a little more than five minutes to reach Schodorof’s Luncheonette, a popular deli on York Boulevard, from where she was to pick up sandwiches for the school’s teachers. Because she had already placed her order over the phone, as she did every week, Martinez parked her car in a 5-minute loading zone on York and went inside the deli.
Two minutes later, she was back in her car, looking forward to enjoying her sandwich, which the school’s teachers had paid for in return for her running the errand. And that’s when Martinez noticed a parking ticket on her car’s windshield—a $58 citation, evidently for overstaying in a so-called white zone.
The problem was that Martinez knew well she had not parked for more than two minutes in the zone. She looked at the receipt from the deli and noticed that it was time-stamped at 12:05 p.m. The time-stamp on the ticket was 12:02 p.m. Clearly, she reckoned, she had been given a ticket while she waiting for barely two minutes to pick up the sandwiches.
Martinez was distraught. “I’ve worked at Mount Washington for 12 years and never gotten a parking ticket,” she says. “I got a fix-it ticket about four or five years ago—that’s all.”
Martinez contested the citation—and her ticket was dismissed. And that’s when she began wondering if the parking enforcement officer who had given her the ticket—identified on the ticket as "Espinoza"—had been citing other drivers unfairly.
Her own mother, Martinez recalled, had got a ticket nearby on Avenue 51 and York in August 2013. That ticket, too, had been written by Espinoza—and it had been dismissed. What was going on?
Patch contacted Los Angeles Department of Transportation Communications Director Bruce Gillman for an explanation. According to Gillman, Martinez's ticket was dismissed because the parking enforcement officer had failed to record the "time marked" on the ticket. That is, the officer had not stated the time at which he saw Martinez's car parked in the white zone for more than five minutes.
"She got off not because she's right but because of a technicality," Gillman told Patch. Parking officers are "human beings and people do make mistakes," he said, adding that LADOT has 560 full-time officers writing an average of 2.7 million citations per year.
According to Gillman, this is the first time that LADOT has received a complaint against Espinoza regarding a 5-minute citation. Asked if the officer was perhaps trying to meet some year-end department "quota" for the number of citations, Gillman replied: "He has no quotas—they are illegal in the state of California."
But what about the ticket that Martinez's mother got last summer? On Aug. 9, Lilly Tejadilla (Martinez's mother has the same first name) parked her car in a lot on Avenue 51, on the corner of Meridian Avenue, to get her hair done at Elena's Beauty Salon. Located at 1311 N Ave. 51, the salon is barely a five-minute drive from Tejadilla's home on Avenue 56, and she's a regular customer there.
As she always did when going to Elena's, Tejadilla put two quarters into the parking kiosk, which earned her an hour in the parking lot overlooking the beauty salon. "It takes about 25 to 30 minutes to do my hair but I always put money for an hour," says Tejadilla, who is 83 years old.
At 11:15 a.m., Tejadilla's stylist told her that she could see a parking enforcement officer giving out tickets in the lot. "I told her I had one hour," Tejadilla recalls, adding: "So she kept on combing my hair. I got out at 11:25 and went to my car and as soon as I sat down in my car I saw this ticket in my windshield."
When Tejadilla looked at the parking meter, she says she saw it still had a little less than 30 minutes of time left. (See accompanying photo of the parking meter, which shows she had 22 minutes, 28 seconds left.) "I was so mad I started crying," she recalls. "I cried for about five minutes. Then other people started walking out and checking their meters. They all got tickets."
According to Tejadilla, at least three of them still had sufficient time left on their meters. She says she doesn't know if any of them contested their tickets. What she does know is that "a lot of people don’t complain and pay up because they don’t want to go through the hassle."
As Tejadilla tells it, Espinoza is constantly giving out tickets. That's his job, of course, but "the lady at the beauty shop says he’s always there at around 11 o’clock in the morning and gives out tickets," says Tejadilla. "Then he comes at 2 o’clock and gives tickets again."
According to LADOT's Gillman, however, the department has only ever received two complaints against Espinoza, besides the complaints from Tejadilla and Martinez. The first was in 2012, when he issued a citation for stopping in a peak-hour lane. And the second was in 2013, regarding a citation for parking in a red zone.
"The complaints were not about the officer's professionalism but about getting tickets," Gillman says. Asked why Tejadilla's ticket was dismissed, Gillman acknowledged: "The reason for the dismissal was that there was time on the machine." (LADOT has the ability to electronically check how much time was in a meter at the time a citation was issued pertaining to the meter.)
Little or none of that is comforting to Tejadilla, who says she couldn't sleep for two nights after getting her ticket and had to have her son drive her all the way to an LADOT office on Wilshire Boulevard to contest the citation.
"They sent me a letter saying my ticket was dismissed," she says. "But there was no explanation. The officer [Espinoza] should apologize to people for giving tickets like that."
Related—for further reading: L.A.'s Over-the-Top Parking Tickets Spark Revolt