COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES v. CITY OF ALHAMBRA

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Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 5, California.

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, a political subdivision of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. CITY OF ALHAMBRA, a Municipal Corporation, Defendant and Appellant.

Civ. 52425.

Decided: December 19, 1978

Leland C. Dolley, City Atty., Burke, Williams & Sorensen, and Mark C. Allen, Jr., Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant. John H. Larson, County Counsel, and John P. Farrell, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and respondent.

Defendant City of Alhambra appeals from a judgment which (1) awarded damages to plaintiff County of Los Angeles; (2) declared invalid, as preempted by state law, certain portions of defendant's municipal ordinance relating to penalties for overtime parking; and (3) enjoined defendant from enforcing such ordinance in a manner which fails to comply with the Vehicle Code.

The interest of Los Angeles County in the parking penalties imposed by the City of Alhambra arises from Penal Code section 1463. Under that section, all fines, forfeitures, and forfeitures of bail, including Vehicle Code fines and forfeitures, collected in municipal court, are deposited with the county, and the formula in that statute entitles Los Angeles County to 13 percent of the fines and forfeitures arising from arrests by Alhambra officers and employees.

The parking penalty fees challenged here, however, were deposited with the city treasurer of Alhambra, not the municipal court. On the theory that Alhambra's parking penalty fee is invalid and that the fees should have been deposited in municipal court, the county has a financial stake in Alhambra's system which gives the county standing to sue. (See County of Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles, 65 Cal. 476, 480, 4 P. 453.)

At issue here are the “fees” which Alhambra has collected since 1963 for overtime parking at parking meters and overtime and illegal parking on municipal parking lots. The fee system is established in chapter 12.08, entitled “Enforcement,” of title 12 of the Alhambra Municipal Code relating to parking meters and parking lots, of which we take judicial notice. Section 12.08.010 entitled “Enforcement procedure” provides in part:

“(a) Procedure for Payment of Penalty. For the purpose of regulating the use of lots, streets and traffic thereon and as a deterrent to the abuse of parking privileges provided in this code, a fee shall be charged for overtime or illegal parking in any parking lot or in any space adjacent to any parking meter, which fee shall be in the amount of fifty cents for each hour or portion thereof during which the violation continues, provided the same is paid in the manner provided in this subparagraph. Any overtime parking violation on any municipal parking lot or parking meter zone which continues for a longer period of time than one hour shall be deemed to be a continuing violation and each complete one hour period plus any remaining fraction of an hour shall be deemed to be a separate violation. Such fee shall be placed in the envelope furnished with such notice and the envelope and fee shall be deposited at or before nine a. m., of the day following that on which the parking violation occurs and shall be deposited in any courtesy box furnished by the city for that purpose, or the same may be paid by personal delivery to the office of the city treasurer at or before said time.”

This section also provides that if such penalty is paid after 9 a. m. the day following the violation, but prior to the date specified in the notice of violation for the court appearance of the violator, “the penalty shall be two dollars instead of the fifty cents penalty specified hereinabove; . . .”

Subdivision (c) of section 12.08.010 provides:

“(c) Failure to Pay. Should any such fee not be paid and deposited as provided herein, then the person committing such violation shall be subject to the penalties provided in this code and in the vehicle code and other laws of the state of California applicable to traffic violations within the city, and necessary proceedings shall be instituted in the municipal court of the Alhambra judicial district by the city employee charged with the enforcement of parking meter regulations, as provided in Section 41102 and 41103 of the vehicle code of the state of California.”

Subdivision (b) of section 12.08.010 provides for the placing of a written notice of violation in a conspicuous place on the vehicle. The notice is to be in a form prescribed by the city treasurer.1

Pursuant to this ordinance, Alhambra collected substantial amounts of parking penalties, as shown in the footnote, for the fiscal years 1971 to 1976 involved in this suit.2 Pursuant to subdivision (c) of section 12.08.010, if the required fee was not paid, Alhambra would file a complaint in municipal court. Alhambra filed more than 1,100 complaints per year in 1974, 1975, and 1976.3

The county brought this action to have the Alhambra parking penalty system declared invalid, to enjoin its enforcement, and for damages equaling 13 percent of the revenue collected by the city treasurer of Alhambra during the three years preceding the filing of the complaint.4

In a nonjury trial based on stipulated facts, the court entered judgment for plaintiff, finding that, “Alhambra Municipal Code Section 12.08.010 entitled ‘Enforcement Procedure’ attempts to regulate an area of fines, bail, and citations for parked vehicles expressly and completely regulated by the Vehicle Code and is therefore pre-empted and invalid.

“. . . es

“All notices of violations issued heretofore under Alhambra Municipal Code section 12.08.010 have constituted de facto citations, although in improper form, for an infraction under the Vehicle Code and all funds received by ALHAMBRA pursuant to such notices have constituted de facto bail or fines which must be distributed in accordance with Penal Code Section 1463.”

DISCUSSION

We hold the trial court was correct in concluding that Alhambra's system of penalties for violations of its parking ordinance is preempted by the Vehicle Code provisions for violations of such ordinance.

Vehicle Code section 21 provides: “Except as otherwise expressly provided, the provisions of this code are applicable and uniform throughout the State and in all counties and municipalities therein, and No local authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance on the matters covered by this code unless expressly authorized herein.” (Emphasis added. See People v. Moore, 229 Cal.App.2d 221, 228, 40 Cal.Rptr. 121.) The Vehicle Code does expressly authorize local authorities, by ordinance or resolution, (1) to “prohibit or restrict the parking or standing of vehicles on certain streets or highways, or portions thereof, during all or certain hours of the day” (Veh.Code, s 22507); (2) to “prohibit, restrict or regulate the parking, stopping or standing of vehicles on any offstreet parking facility which it owns or operates” (Veh.Code, s 22519); and (3) to “establish parking meter zones or fix the rate of fees for such zones” (Veh.Code, s 22508).5

We are not persuaded, however, by Alhambra's argument that section 12.08.010 of its ordinance merely regulates fees for parking. Its purpose is in part to act “as a deterent” and it is described in portions of the ordinance and the notice of violation as a “penalty.”6 It is “charged for overtime or illegal parking.” In other words, it is imposed after the motorist has already violated other portions of the parking ordinance by parking the vehicle for a longer period of time than lawfully permitted. It is “unlawful” or not “lawful” to permit a vehicle to be parked overtime. (See, e. g., Alhambra Municipal Code, s 12.08.030, and chs. 12.20 and 12.28 (establishment of “lawful” time limits).)

Vehicle Code section 40000.1 provides: “Except as otherwise provided in this article, it is unlawful and constitutes an infraction for any person to violate, or fail to comply with any provision of this code, Or any local ordinance adopted pursuant to this code.” (Emphasis added.)7

Once the violation has occurred, the Vehicle Code contemplates uniform penalties for infractions (Veh.Code, s 42001), uniform procedures for giving notice to the registered owner of the vehicle (Veh.Code, ss 41102, 41103), and uniform provisions for posting of bail by mail to a person authorized to receive a deposit of bail, i. e., the court clerk. (Veh.Code, ss 40309, 40309.5, 40502, subd. (c).) The penalty fees in Alhambra's ordinance were properly invalidated by the trial court as preempted by the Vehicle Code. (Veh.Code, s 21; see Lancaster v. Municipal Court, 6 Cal.3d 805, 807-808, 100 Cal.Rptr. 609, 494 P.2d 681.)

The judgment is affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

1.  The notice which is used by Alhambra provides as follows: The front side of the notice contained boxes or lines for the usual description of day, date, type of vehicle, license number, location, municipal code number, and description of violation. The full text of the instructions on the opposite side is:“OVERTIME PARKING NOTICE“Your Parking Has Expired“YOUR ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED that if you do not pay the fee for overtime parking in the manner provided below, you must appear in the Municipal Court, 200 W. Woodward Avenue, Alhambra, California at 9:00 A.M. on the date shown at the right ———. (P) YOU NEED NOT APPEAR IN COURT provided you pay to the CITY TREASURER the proper penalty as follows: (P) (50 (cents)) Fifty Cents if paid by 9:00 A.M. of the day following the date of this notice. (P) ($2.00) Two Dollars if paid after 9:00 A.M. of the day following the date of this notice and before the court appearance date above. (P) Payment may be made by placing the fee in the enclosed envelope and depositing it in any courtesy box provided for that purpose or by paying it in the City Treasurer's Office, 111 South First Street, Alhambra City Hall, by such time. If the overtime parking continues for more than one hour, you may incur additional penalties. (P) NOTE. If court proceedings are necessary a warrant could issue with additional penalties.”

2.  Fiscal YearFees Collected 1971-1972$13,575.091972-1973$13,164.831973-1974$11,652.051974-1975$ 9,472.401975-1976$ 8,152.957-1-76 to 12-31-76$ 2,927.72

3.  The trial court found:“e) The following numbers of complaints were filed in the Municipal Court of the Alhambra Judicial District by officers of ALHAMBRA arising from overtime or illegal parking of the type described in Paragraph 2 above for which a fee notice, described in 5(b) above, had first been issued: 1,110 in 1974, 1,279 in 1975 and 1,140 in 1976.”

4.  The county appropriately limited its claim for money damages to the three preceding years, under the three-year statute of limitations for actions on a liability created by statute. (Code Civ.Proc., s 338, subd. 1.)

5.  Government Code section 54037 also authorizes local agencies to impose and collect a reasonable charge for the parking offstreet of motor vehicles.

6.  At first blush it might seem that a fee of .50 is de minimus and a bargain compared to the bail for a parking ticket filed in court ($5 according to the stipulated facts). The text of the ordinance provides, however, that the penalty is .50 For each hour or portion thereof the violation continues, and this rises to $2 (per hour) if the penalty is not paid by 9 a. m. on the following day. The notice of violation also warns the motorist, “If the overtime parking continues for more than one hour, you may incur additional penalties.”

7.  Alhambra Municipal Code section 12.08.035 similarly provides:“Whenever in this title any act is prohibited or is made or declared to be unlawful or an offense or the doing of any act is required or the failure to do any act is declared to be unlawful, the violation of any such provision is declared to be an infraction and shall be punishable in the manner and to the extent provided for in Section 1.12.011 of this code.”

ASHBY, Associate Justice.

KAUS, P. J., and HASTINGS, J., concur.