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Southern California parks agency fines visitors who roll through stop signs $100. It has made millions

Salvador Hernandez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — The citation that Andrew Rice received in the mail looked like a traffic ticket, including a photo of his license plate. But the mail didn’t come from any police or city agency he recognized.

Back in July, one of his adult kids visited Temescal Canyon park near Pacific Palisades. A camera recorded Rice’s Prius rolling through a stop sign at the park’s parking lot, resulting in a $100 fine for Rice, the registered owner of the car.

Yet it was not a violation of the vehicle code. It won’t affect Rice’s driving record, and it was not a traffic citation. Instead, it was a fine for violating park rules, issued by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority — a local public agency dedicated to protecting local parkland.

Rice is not alone. The agency collects more than $1 million a year from such tickets.

“This agency that is ostensibly all about land preservation and public access, things I totally support, is sending fake $100 tickets to the people they claim to serve,” Rice said.

But the citations are real and can have real consequences. If they’re not paid on time, the debts are sent to a collection agency, and unpaid fines can affect credit scores. Rice missed the initial notice in the mail, he said, possibly tossing out the letter thinking it was junk mail. He discovered the fine in March, seven months later, after it was sent to a collection agency.

 

Like Rice, thousands of other drivers are receiving similar citations from the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority after visiting their parks. The controversial practice was first reported by KTLA-TV.

Tasked with preserving and managing open space and parkland, the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority is a local government organization that manages more than 75,000 acres of land and more than 100 parks. It was created in 1985 in a partnership between state and local park and recreation agencies.

With seven cameras installed in four parks, the organization issues about 17,000 citations a year, bring in about $1.1 million every year, said Dash Stolarz, spokesperson for the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority. That means that the agency tasked with preserving free open space, parkland and coastal access issues about 47 stop sign citations a day.

“It’s set up like a turnstile to generate money,” Rice said. “It’s a money machine for the park.”

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