Traffic ticket

The inability to pay court fees and fines for traffic violations has resulted in approximately 4 million license suspensions in the State of California. These suspensions often make getting to work more difficult for the state’s poorest residents, which in turn, makes repaying fines even harder. We’ll discuss a new report by legal aid and civil rights groups, which found traffic courts and fees disproportionately impact the state’s most vulnerable populations.

Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California by KQED News

Meredith Desautels, staff attorney at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
Karin Martin, assistant professor of public management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Thaddeus Ford, client of Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
Deborah Ryan, judge, Santa Clara County Superior Court

  • colinvgallagher

    A poor person who texts and drives should be paying the same in court fines and fees as a wealthy person & not getting any special treatment, especially as his or her conduct poses the same risks to the rest of the public as a well-off texting driver. Considering that a serial traffic violator who is poor is also not likely to have adequate auto insurance in the event of a serious accident, does it really amount to a deprivation of civil rights for such a person’s driving privileges to be suspended?

  • Livegreen

    I’ve thought about this subject before, but more because living near a busy street where many drivers are wealthy, the cost of fines mean very little. When Police ticket speeders who refuse to stop for pedestrians and children going to school, many drivers act incensed and tell Police they should be out solving “real” crimes.

    Well it is a real crime when a pedestrian or child is hit be a speeding car that either intentionally disregards the speed limit or is involved in a hit and run. There is a real impact to traffic violations, misdemeanors and crimes.

    The answer is not to decrease traffic fines and costs for the poor and thus render them meaningless. It’s to consider increasing them so they become propotionally meaningful for the wealthy.

    • Mrs. Eccentric

      Livegreen i agree that traffic safety should be the core concern. That said, i wonder if there is any evidence that these fines contribute to safer driving?

      As a pedestrian and person who was once severely injured in a car accident i’d rather concentrate our efforts on safety upfront. Not to mention many of these citations have nothing to do with traffic safety (which has been brought up numerous times in this program already).

  • Peter

    It is a major issue of Judicial and law enforcement ability or maybe corruption. Don’t get me wrong, one of my biggest pet peeves is speeding drivers, those who drive through stop signs or cut off pedestrians. I would say I am wealthier than most. I was pulled over in a city known for making revenue from traffic tickets, here in California. The officer sited me for a non-moving violation.The ticket still came to $320. I hired a defense attorney for estimated cost of $500 and deposited a $1,000 retainer (something most moderate income folks can’t afford). When my lawyer went to court nine months later the officer stated I admitted to the violation, I had not. The Judge found me guilty of a moving violation, which required traffic school costs, about $250. My attorney got a rehearing with a different Judge, the charge was correctly placed as non-moving but I was still convicted as the officer than testified in court that I had admitted to the violation, I had not. With $750 in attorneys fees plus $320 ticket it was a $1070 learning experience. What working stiff has that sort of money? If called to jury duty I could not believe the testimony of any police officer.

  • Sean Dennehy

    They should set a progressive tiered system based on income for traffic fines. There’s no reason that traffic violations, the least offensive of all law-breaking, should have such a negative effect on certain segments of the population.

    • thisismyaccount

      No we don’t need a progressive system. We ALL should be accountable for our actions. But fines and fees should not be a primary income source for government. There are two separate issues here. Responsibility for actions is NOT a civil right issue. Rich or poor if you break the law there needs to be fair consequences. Separately a government money grab using a crazy and arcane system of fees and tack-ons because the word taxes is a third rail of politics is wrong.

      • Mrs. Eccentric

        how is becoming homeless for parking tickets fair? I understand consequences for actions, but this is so out of control and crazy and utterly dependent on how much money a person has that it makes no sense.

        Bill Gates can do whatever he wants, the lawyers will take care of it. Mr. Ford becomes homeless because of parking tickets. It is nasty and ghastly and i for one cannot respect a system which countenances these types of actions. Where are the consequences for the people who play this system for profit – the counties, the collection agencies, the for-profit prisons?

        • thisismyaccount

          Again we have to frame EVERYTHING as a rich/poor issue. The REAL issue is how the government is doing a runaround tax collection by re-framing taxes as fees. If we deal with things in a straight forward fashion it will be fair for EVERYONE. We don’t need more wedges we need more solutions.

          AND there still should be consequences for bad driving, endangering others, etc. Driving is a responsibility. BUT the consequences should be fair and proportional to the violation. That is not what is happening currently with the current fee-itis. This is the problem that needs to be solved. The goal should be to improve driving safety not increase the government coffers.

          I agree the current system is out of control and unfair (for everyone).

          • Mrs. Eccentric

            rich vs. poor is a real issue. No, it is not the only issue here, but it is a real issue.

            Reading thru your comments it is pretty apparent that you have an axe to grind and are willing to ignore any evidence brought forward to counter your favored view. I’ll leave it at that.

          • thisismyaccount

            You didn’t read my reply. I just want the issues defined clearly. When we constantly mix our arguments we never get to real solutions. Two separate issues. #1 the government should NOT be using fines and fees as a primary income source. #2 Drivers should be held RESPONSIBLE for their actions no matter who they are. But the consequences should be fair and proportional.

          • ES Trader

            Everything in life from housing, education and food is a rich/poor issue.

            The real problem is lack of respect and motivation to get a education that becomes a well paid job, work hard and condition any offspring on the rules of the game called capitalism

          • thucy

            I think what Mrs. Eccentric is suggesting is in no way creating a “wedge” issue. She is merely asking that we look at gross inequalities, and create solutions that address those macro issues.

          • Mrs. Eccentric

            thucy ! I have found my amanuensis 🙂

            I mean, plenty of people look at water as a wedge issue between north and southern california…….it may well be, however, one part of the state indeed has much more water than the other.

          • thucy

            amanuensis – heh!

          • ES Trader

            then explain how thew average per capita water use in CA is 178 gal/day which is 40% above NYC

          • Mrs. Eccentric

            ES, not to be rude, but – have you ever BEEN to NYC?

          • ES Trader

            I used to live in Trenton NJ as a kid and NYC was just 1 30 min train ride but as an adult I had the fortune of spending the entire month of May in Manhatten across the street from Penn Station and Madison Sq Gardens on the lower end of midtown and took the subway to training classes at the World Trade Center.

            It was the best “free’ vacation in the greatest city in the world, it immediately placed The City in 2nd place.

            The statistic I quoted is from a NY Times story from today

          • Mrs. Eccentric

            ES, i have no idea what you are getting at. I’ve read this thread three times now. Are you sincerely looking for answers to specific questions, trying hard to get a particular viewpoint out there where more people see it, or just passing the time of day?

          • ES Trader

            Have you considered getting a sharper needle ?

            Or do you recognize something about yourself in reflection?

          • Another Mike

            Condos on the 20th floor seldom come with landscaping.
            Homes with landscapes are covered in snow for much of the year.
            Enough water comes from the sky during the rest of the year to keep grass, plants, shrubs, and trees happy, with rare exceptions.

          • ES Trader

            You miss the point, SF avg is 44 gal but on average CA use seems high and I suspect it is the avg use in SoCal

          • jonquimbly

            It’s both. Rich can afford the occasional fine. Unlikely a rich dude is gonna be paid for doing deliveries with his/her own car.

            Instead, it’s the person that’s borderline making it. Rack up a half dozen tickets, that’s half a grand, easy. No way a person barely making it can take care of that w/o getting under water.

            That’s the difference between rich and poor on this topic, far as I’m concerned. I’ve lived both ends of it.

      • Drew

        If we change the penalty to jail time, is it fair if a poor person must serve 5 months and a wealthy person serve 1 week?
        And if the penalty became mandatory work, is it fair if a poor person serve 5 months and a wealthy person serve 1 week?
        So why then, in the case of fines, is there a flat fee for all violators?
        A better option is to base the fines on a percentage of income. This is
        how traffic fines are distributed in Finland. The Fins, estimate the
        amount of discretionary spending a person has in a day and divides that
        number by 2. Then, there are multiplies based on the severity of

    • I think this is a great idea–Livegreen, above, also puts this forth as a possible solution. SOMETHING’S gotta give. The web of fines, penalties and failure-to-appears are a boon to the Prison Industrial Complex. Those who are on the knife’s edge of trying to re-enter society have a nearly vertical path ahead of them with huge problems finding a job with a criminal record, and far too many nit-picky opportunities to violate probation/parole. Piling on driver’s license suspensions can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

      There are just too many people with often non-violent drug convictions cycling through the Prison Industrial Complex’s revolving door, and the court system seems to find about a million different penaltie$ to charge for as you make your way through the system. Jail and prison is supposed to be correctional, not an opportunity for law enforcement to create a veritable labyrinth to ensnare poor people, giving them little chance to become positive, contributory members of society, but every chance for the jail and prison system to continually enrich itself, and the various unions and private corporations making a living off of others’ misery.

      I also find myself often exasperated at the self-righteous, almost gleeful gloating of those with the “if you can’t do the time…” throw-the-book-at ’em attitude of too many folks who’ve never experienced a microsecond of life on a poverty budget. It’s too easy to be a punitive law-and-order authoritarian when you’re sitting on a fat wallet elevating you far above the turmoil that is a life trying to make a clean go of it whilst living paycheck-to-paycheck.

      • thucy

        I agree with your many points, but I’d also like to point out that there are so many people cycling through the Prison Industrial Complex who are entirely innocent, never committed ANY crime, whether violent or financial, but were put there just for being poor and black or for being poor and white.
        Separate from that, I really urge everyone to watch the new video of the South Carolina shooting from last Saturday. It’s a straight-out execution of an unarmed, fleeing black man. Evidence is then planted on his dead body as NO CPR or medical aid is enlisted
        Then I urge everyone to follow George Gascon’s current, three-part investigation of SFPD’s own criminal activity. Police corruption is not just happening in South Carolina.

        • Thanks for clarifying that point. There are waaaay to many people currently locked up in jail, awaiting trials that often take over a year to prepare, simply because they cannot pay bail. Sometimes the bails are heartbreakingly small, and the entire time that person is locked away, accruing even *more* fines to pay for their own imprisonment, their life on the outside–job, housing, family, bills–is quickly going to irreparable sh*t.

          That cop who murdered the man in S. Carolina had even hit him with a stun gun before he decided to fire several times at the fleeing man’s back. Thankfully, the cop is being charged with murder. If it hadn’t been caught on camera, I seriously doubt those charges would even have been investigated.

          Our own little rat’s nest of racist policemen seems especially appalling, given that we live in supposedly enlightened *San Francisco*, fer gawd’s sakes, not 1950s Jim Crow Mississippi. The content of those heinous texts was bad enough, but the offhand, “humorous” attitude implied in the texts is perhaps worse, and it really shows Furminger, the already proven-to-be corrupt ringleader, to be the hateful and frighteningly powerful bully that he is. Furminger did not exist in a vacuum. SFPD is in need of some SERIOUS command culture change, and a lot of heads need to roll.

          • thucy

            “Furminger did not exist in a vacuum.”You said a mouthful, and I can’t agree more that the veneer of “progressive” Bay Area politics is little more than veneer, and a chipped shellac, at best. Why is the Gascon investigation not a topic on Forum? I hope they will do something.
            Aside from that, the most egregious parts, to me, of the South Carolina video:
            1) police officer handcuffs man he has already shot EIGHT times and who is bleeding face-down on the ground;
            2) police officers provide NO medical assistance;
            3) police officer then plants taser next to victim’s body, during which time he was legally and ethically obliged not to be covering his police-officer derriere, but to focus on getting immediate medical attention for the man he has shot.
            I can’t say enough about the bravery of the kid who shot the video, nor can I express my gratitude that he got the video to The New York Times.

    • theqin

      Probably it would be easier to have a progressive traffic fine system based on the blue book value of the vehicle. Otherwise we are assuming that the ticketed person has 1) California based income and 2) the person’s income is actually associated with their net worth… retired millionaires and people with fancy pants tax shelters would pay next to nothing.

    • ES Trader

      So perps have to provide a copy of their 1040’s ?

      Good luck w/ that

  • De Blo

    No one receives a fine unless they commit a crime and no one has a right to the privilege of driving. If you don’t want to be responsible for your crimes, then follow the law. If anything, these fines are way too low and the level of enforcement is way too lax.

    • thucy

      I would agree IF police officers stopped middle-class white people as frequently as they target poor minorities. But the statistics, reinforced by the Justice Department investigations, indicate that there is gross inequality in police stops.

    • Another Mike

      Let’s just get rid of the fourth and fifth amendments altogether, then.

  • ES Trader

    All pecuniary penalties, taxes and fines tend to be regressive however aren’t the economically challenged more probable to be perpetrators?

    Driving is not a RIGHT, and dangerous to the driver as well as others.

    So yes I agree that minor traffic offense fees are much too high but what is the alternative ?

    • thucy

      “aren’t the economically challenged more probable to be perpetrators?”

      I just watched the video of the South Carolina shooting of another unarmed, fleeing black man by a white police officer that’s on the front page of The New York Times, online edition. It is apparent from the video that the officer plants evidence (a taser gun) on the black man’s dead body.

      It does seem to me that the economically challenged are not only more probable to be perpetrators, but when they are not perpetrators, they are framed at a much higher rate for crimes they did not perpetrate.

      This is especially true if the economically challenged person is black and the police officer is white.

      • Mrs. Eccentric

        the unbounded trust in completely perfect and impartial action by police and politicians apparent in this discussion boggles the mind. Especially in the wake of the horrible murder you reference. Thank you for your comments in this thread.

      • ES Trader

        I agree, I have been commenting for over a year that the militarization of police, that started w/ the formation of DEA, has gone way beyond what is necessary and that police enforcement does attract those that seek authority with weapons and force inclusive.

        But as a former banker many decades ago and just my observations my conclusion is that the economically challenged, regardless of race or sex, tend to disregard “rules” more than the middle class either due to ignorance and or attitude.

        The point is that driving is a privilege that should not endanger others.

  • thisismyaccount

    The State and Counties, because the word “taxes” is so verboten, have decided to use “fees” tacked on to “fines” as a way to increase revenue. This does seem like a form of corruption. This is a vicious cycle. We need a more rational model for tax collection and paying for services and infrastructure.

    • thucy

      Excellent point.

  • Sam Badger

    Part of the problem is that cities need to raise money, but don’t want to raise taxes, so they set fees and fines at onerous levels. What’s disturbing is that these fees appear exploitative and regressive by design, and skyrocketing fines because of difficulty to pay is just tragic in the case of those in poverty. One particularly ugly example is in Los Angeles where the homeless could have their car towed and impounded for sleeping in their car – then they need to pay hundreds of dollars to get their property returned.

    • thisismyaccount

      The are exploitative of everyone. They are not regressive by design. The government just wants your money whomever you are. In fact I would guess the government would rather ticket people with means. Much easier to collect the money.

      • Sam Badger

        This whole story documents how the person’s lack of finances is used to increase fees and fines. Also watch the John Oliver piece on this.

        • Mrs. Eccentric

          TY Sam! it is so irritating to read these people who hop all over a thread while not listening to or just flat out denying the information presented in the show.

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    Really this is the type of nastiness which breeds disrespect for the law.

  • Sam Badger

    One of the worst offenders is San Francisco. I had to pay parking tickets that went up to $80 while working as a graduate student at SFSU, which was up to 1/5th of the salary of a monthly position at the university. It’s so profoundly disappointing and demoralizing to see so much of one’s salary going to a greedy city because one parked in a space for half an our too long. Yet the city must KNOW that the people that they are ticketing are students at that location! The SF city government really is despicable if ripping off students and the poor is how they try to make up the gaps in their budget.

  • fakeanonymousguest

    I’m not poor but I also have not had a traffic or parking violation in a very long time. When I was young and less financially stable I treated treated these violations as serious took care of them right away. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

    • thucy

      I’ve never had a traffic or parking violation. Never.
      But as a taxpayer, I don’t want poor people to bear a disproportionate burden simply because counties fear properly taxing the 1%.

      • fakeanonymousguest

        neither do I as long as “poor” is not another word for “irresponsible”. $35 parking ticket or case of beer should never be a payment dilemma…

        • Whamadoodle

          You’ll be happy to know that “poor” ISN’T another word for “irresponsible…” except in the fantasies of “welfare queen” imaginers who claim that the poor are just spending all their money on beer instead of Doing the Right Thing. (Or the people they pay to post spam for them.)

          It’s one thing to be small-government. But it’s abjectly evil to pretend to cut taxes, only to shift the method so as to prey upon the poor (especially in the highly racially disparate ways the panelists point out) as an alternative to tax collection.

        • This is exactly what really makes me steam. Someone who has never been truly poor has absolutely NO idea how impossible it is to pay a $35 parking ticket, a $120 Muni fare enforcement, a $150 moving violation, and etc. If you can’t pay it up front, which most truly poor people can’t, you cannot go to court to plead your case, and you enter the world of astronomical civil fees and interest which will eventually result in a drivers license suspension, bad credit, and even a warrant for your arrest. I was “lucky” enough to not have a car when I was going through a period of intense financial misfortune, but I also live in a central location in SF, which has good public transportation.

          If you think that foregoing “a case of beer” is all that a poor person needs to do in order to pay a fine, you have never Never NEVER been in that situation. So your distasteful stereotyping, and patting yourself on the back for being such a good little financially responsible citizen, albeit one who has never been truly tested or challenged, seems doubly shallow and callous.

          Selfless empathy means that you can attempt to understand what others are going through BEFORE you yourself are faced with a similarly challenging situation. Sitting back and crowing “don’t do the crime…” (I always cringe when I hear this overused trope) is not very empathetic–or attractive as a test of character.

  • Kurt thialfad

    What will be the effect of the introduction of all these foreign drivers with no legal status in the US – since January 2015 in California. How can (and do) the courts deal with foreign nationals with no legal status in the US, who commit traffic violations?
    For example, what if a deportable offense has been committed, such as a DUI? (Note, if I have a DUI, I am inadmissible to enter Canada and vice versa)

    Will the non-status aliens be eligible for help or amnesty as a low income or minority group – even though they have no legal standing in the country?

    • Skip Conrad

      Sadly, I feel like these people will be given a free pass because they have “no assets”, and will continue to be a cost to the rest of us.

    • Another Mike

      The one time I went to traffic court, perhaps a quarter of us were there for driving without a license. That same group of people all required an interpreter. They were treated with great courtesy, because there was no way that they could have obtained a drivers license.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    I buy the argument that fees are disproportionately punitive and revenue-seeking. But what about the big problem of driving without insurance? Isnt that also considered an infraction? I certainly support a zero tolerance policy on that issue… Also, if traffic violations are too costly in one regard, are they too costly for other laws, such as red light violations? One could argue that red light cameras cannot discriminate on basis of race, assuming cameras are not only placed in poor neighborhoods.

    • thucy

      It would be interesting to research whether those camera are disproportionately placed in poor neighborhoods, or whether fines based on that camera evidence are ultimately disproportionately assessed in those neighborhoods.
      Anyone who read the recent Justice Department reviews of unequal treatment of minorities by various police departments in this country should be properly skeptical of “equal” prosecutions.

      • Fay Nissenbaum

        “driving while Brown” – yes, it is a very real issue.

    • Another Mike

      No insurance, no registration renewal = expired license plates.


    The sad fact is most cities and states are using parking and trafick citations as means of subsiding their cash deficient treasury ,and often the law the police becomes more than willing to do their dirty work. our business in Telegraph avenue in Berkeley we have several security cameras shows the sorrounding streets , these cameras shows
    parking meter maids issuing numerous parking citations to cars ,and often we observed meter maids issuing false tickets to autos that have not exceeded their time limit , I myself observed over 10 parking citations that were false ,I did make many complains to the head of the city of Berkeley parking enforcement ,but little came out of it,and false parking citations are issued every day……I was present in many of the city of Berkeley council meeting where the city manager Christine Daniel have always pro[posed to raise the fees on parking citations every time the city need to raise money …Parking citations in Berkeley is a racket

    • thucy

      But in Berkeley you have so many options – BART, cycling, busses. There is good reason to discourage driving in downtown Berkeley.

      • Another Mike

        IN Berkeley, yes. TO Berkeley from my house, no.

        • thucy

          I have a suggestion, not sure it would work for you, but here goes…
          Can you drive your car to BART, enjoy the VERY cheap parking for BART passengers, then take BART to downtown Berkeley? It would be a shame for downtown Berkeley to lose your business, but it would also be a shame for you to forgo the many terrific shops and restaurants there.
          I am regularly at UCB, and use my bike to commute from North Bay. (But obviously have to get on BART at San Francisco.) I have friends who drive to El Cerrito BART or Rockridge BART and make use of parking there because they take a short BART trip to Berkeley.

          • Another Mike

            It is a hassle. I can shop on San Pablo avenue, and shops even on University have their own small lots.

            In SF I can park in a neighborhood and take Muni downtown. I wish this was possible in Berkeley.

    • Another Mike

      This is why I no longer shop in downtown Berkeley — aggressive enforcement of meters. Shopping for two hours and five minutes is not worth the $40 I must pay.

  • Another Mike

    No moving violation is a mere $100 — with mandatory fees the fine is closer to $300 for the simplest moving violation.

  • Guest

    Driving without insurance is a fine tacked onto a moving violation. I worked in the SF DA’s Office when they had a ‘campaign’ to charge the no insurance people. To me, this is the no tolerance tipping point. Did the study make any findings about people driving without insurance? They are involved in dispropotionately higher rate of accidents. Recall Jekiah Stevens, the pedestrian who was hit in San Francisco and the woman who hit her had no wherewithall to pay for Jekiah’s injuries.

  • goorgecostanza

    When I was at my most poorest in Los Angeles, I had a car that I bought for $1,000, which pretty much ate up all of my savings, but you need a car in LA, and I especially needed a car to sit in the hour worth of traffic to get downtown to my job. I wasn’t making any money because my car was such a piece of crap that it would break down once every 2 weeks and I’d have to put in all my money to fix it. I was only getting maybe 10 hours a week at my job, and couldn’t find a new one. No one was hiring at the time. It was hard. Soon, I was unable to move my car because it was so broken down, I got a street sweeping ticket. Then my registration expired. Because I had a street sweeping ticket I was saving to pay off, I couldn’t pay my registration. The longer I couldn’t pay my registration, the more parking tickets I would get because of expired tags. Pretty soon it spiraled to $2,000 in tickets and no matter who I talked to at the DMV, they didn’t give a crap about my situation. Eventually the car completely died and I cashed it in for parts. I payed off what I could, but the rest of the tickets went on my credit report. The system of parking tickets and fines and citations in the California system alone (I don’t know how it’s like anywhere else, LA is especially horrendous compared to SF I think) is absolutely insane.

    • Whamadoodle

      Wait a second–you’re saying you’re me? I had EXACTLY the same experience when I lived in LA. In the Larchmont district, where parking was tight, the parking meter enforcement would just keep circling the block and circling it.

      The most vile thing was the law against feeding other people’s meters. I don’t ever break laws, but that one, I broke constantly. I thought: “you’re getting the money. Be satisfied.” All I was doing was paying for a stranger’s expired meter!

      • goorgecostanza

        LA is horrible with parking. Which is stupid, because you need a car in LA. Everyone drives. Everyone parks. Also, the comically long red curbs around residential side streets in Los Feliz is hilarious. It’s enough for another car to park there, and there’s already a huge lack of parking spots in that neighborhood. Also, when I briefly worked in Beverly Hills, I was shocked to find there was absolutely no public parking allowed (not even a 2 hour only enforcement) in the residential side streets. Only permit parking. So then you have to park in one of the many parking garages where it’s $20-$30 to park for the whole day. I had to quit that job just because I couldn’t afford to park in those stupid garages.

        • Whamadoodle

          Sheesh! You’d think your employer would have warned you (then again, though, maybe your employer purposefully kept it from you, knowing they were going to go through each new employee quitting per day)…

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Did the study address all the people driving wihout insurance? For me this is the point of no tolerance. Recall pedestrian Jikaiah Stevens who was hit and badly injured by an uninsured driver.

    • Another Mike

      I can find nothing online to indicate that the woman who hit Jikaiah Stevens was uninsured. To my surprise, the motorist did not even receive a ticket.

      The one fact I found: the motorist has too few assets to be worth suing.

  • Ehkzu

    The underlying reason for Ferguson replacing “To Serve and Protect” with “To Prey and Extract” is that St. Louis is ringed with 91 little cities which are, like Ferguson, too small to exist separately. Each has a full city government without enough tax base. But instead of merging into fewer, larger cities, they changed the mandates of each town’s police and judiciary to revenue.

    And while it may seem counter-intuitive, the easiest way to get revenue is from the poor. Think about it.

    Now here in California, the cities are big enough to exist, generally, but Prop. 13 slashed their tax base, and our state government has greatly reduced support for municipalities. So for an entirely different reason, California cities are hungry for revenue–especially because California city employees have been given lavish pension/medical plans that are unfunded. Even in my town, with 59,000 population, that unfunded liability amounts to nearly a quarter-billion dollars.

    So Calforinia cities, like Ferguson, are tempted to turn to their law enforcement apparatus for revenue. And they do.

    One of the most egregious examples is red light cameras. Law and order types say “just don’t break the law” and huff and puff self-righteously whenever these sorts of issues come up. But I would think law and order types above all others should be outraged at municipalities corrupting law enforcement into policing for revenue.

    With red light cameras, if the goal is safety, traffic engineers know how to reduce problems in dangerous intersections by improving signage, sight lines and other factors. And if the goal is safety, extending the yellow light timing by one second has been shown to reduce violations by 80%.

    But instead they time the yellow lights as briefly as the law allows, in order to pump up revenues. And don’t say it reduces horrendous red light-running accidents. People who run red lights and smash into other cars barrel through the light, on average, several seconds after the light turned.

    So instead you get a substantial increase in rear-enders from panic braking because the yellow lights are so brief, without affecting the red light runners who cause the accidents.

    And the fines for missing the yellow light by a fraction of a second are generally around $500. Again this should outrage law and order types, because disproportionate punishment erodes respect for the law. Do you support cutting off the hands of thieves? The death penalty for adultery, or taking the Lord’s name in vain, as are all true in other countries?

    Using the law for revenue is a greater crime than most of the infractions we’re talking about.

    • Whamadoodle

      A long post, but a great one. Yes, using law enforcement to trump up pretexts for tax collection perverts the legal system into a kleptocracy. Why not just… collect some actual taxes?

  • Aahz

    In my perception things are worse than ever. Police at forced to be camping areas to meet ticket quotas. Everyone knows horror stories of as the end of the month comes a line of cars being stopped for every reason, and the police literally looking for any excuse to meet their quota.
    And how many of these super heavily monitored, ridiculously condensed areas with bad signs and difficult terrain are in these gentrified neighborhoods? If you posted cop cars outside of any rich neighborhood and set them on duty to meet their monthly quota, there would be swift changes in viewpoint by many. This is just another way for the man to keep us down; set up safe neighborhoods with few patrols and hence no need to meet traffic quotas and then urban ghettos heavily policed then encourage an atmosphere of clear suspicion, over accountability with tacit support of racism and shoot to kill mentality.

    • Another Mike

      I see any number of luxury or sporty cars that fail to display a front license plate. Ticketing those motorists — perhaps several times a day — should keep most cities’ coffers full.

  • Whamadoodle

    This all goes to show why Grover Norquist’s “starve the government of tax revenues!” movement is such a colossally dumb idea. Ditto Proposition 13, the Jarvis-Gann initiative.

    America wants first-world cities, but freaks out about paying half the tax rate that other first-world countries do for it.

    • Another Mike

      Property taxes are regressive, because they have no relationship to ability to pay. Ideally they would be replaced with a graduated income tax.
      Bizarrely, even though California has a graduated income tax, state government raids localities of the smallish sums accrued from their property taxes.This is what needs to be stopped.

      • Whamadoodle

        Hm. Well I am just struck by the fact that 1) Proposition 13’s defenders were proud of saying “we’ve saved California taxpayers $14 billion since Proposition 13 was passed!” and that… er, the shortfall in California’s budget when Governer Brown re-assumed office was just about exactly that much ($16 billion deficit at the time).

        I can’t deny that property taxes have no relationship to ability to pay, though, and that that is important. Yes, that militates for either a consumption tax (on goods other than necessaries, such as food), or the progressive income tax that the paid spammers hate so much.

  • Tom

    The whole system of fines is currently designed mostly to maximize revenue, but should instead by designed to maximize safety. The slate should be wiped clean and the fine rates set based on the relative risk of the violation for causing injury. Currently what you would pay for a car pool violation, which hurts nobody physically, can be multiple times what is typically paid when a driver is at fault for injuring or even killing a pedestrian.

    Such a revenue neutral fee restructure would lower amounts for the typical repeated non-safety related fines that the poor often get, and raise them for the most dangerous driving behaviors in proportion to risk. Suspensions should also be solely based on the relative cumulative risk of the violations, and not based on non-payment.

  • Jonnie

    So funny hearing Krasney, the reefer-head liberal complaining about the traffic fines being too high when they were set up in this manner to feed the liberal union loving illegal immigrant welcoming California state apparatus he so loves. I love it when liberals are forced to consume their own contradictions!

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    I believe parking and traffic fees and fines should be assessed — right from the meter and toll-booth level — on a sliding scale commensurate with ability to pay.

  • MattCA12

    Yet another example of the ultra-left clamoring for a solution to a non-problem. Simple: don’t speed. Don’t walk around with an open liquor bottle. Go to court if you are summoned. I can’t believe the whining that passes for informed debate on this show.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor