In a situation that has become as predictable as leaves falling in autumn, some West Hollywood residents have again faced frustrating delays in the delivery of their renewed parking permits, with some applicants waiting many weeks after their old stickers expired on Sept. 30.
Jackie Rocco, West Hollywood’s parking operations manager, acknowledged the chronic problem and promised solutions by next year’s renewal period, which begins in mid-August.
She added that the Parking Permits office, overseen by West Hollywood's Public Works Department, employs only two parking specialists, who are assisted by an additional staff person during the busy renewal season.
“While we have experienced delays during permit renewals,” she said, “we successfully process over 40,000 residential permits annually, plus thousands of visitor permits weekly, often working late hours and weekends during renewal periods while keeping costs down for the residents.”
She could not say exactly how many applicants were inconvenienced by tardy delivery this year, but stated that residents in the 5R and 8R districts experienced most of the delays, which were greater in 2011 than in years past.
“The majority [of permits] are successfully and timely processed since renewal applications are mailed out six weeks prior to the permit expiration,” Rocco said. "During the renewal period, renewal applications are processed by city staff daily, and we encourage residents to send in their applications early to avoid delays, especially when they have changes from the previous year and new documents are required.”
To speed up the process, some residents drop off their completed applications at the Parking Operations window on the ground floor of , but they still must wait to receive their renewed permits by mail.
Rocco placed the blame for the annual delays squarely on the U.S. Postal Service and what she called its slow processing of business reply mail, which the city has used for renewing parking permits in recent years.
“All mail is delivered by the post office,” she said. “We have been working on a solution to improve the annual permit renewal process that will include online renewals to provide residents with more efficient options to purchase and receive their permits, as well as using regular postage stamps instead of the business reply mail that, while less expensive, can result in delays.”
History of parking permit challenges
Prior to 2001, Rocco said residents renewed and received their parking permits in person at City Hall, which resulted in long lines and an overwhelmed staff as applicants filled out paperwork and provided proper documents at the ground floor parking permit window.
In 2001, the city implemented a new system. While first-time applicants continued to get their permits in person at City Hall—as they still do today—all parking permit renewals were to be handled by mail.
In subsequent years, the city provided a postage-free business reply envelope with each renewal application it mailed out to residents. “The addition of the business reply envelopes was extremely successful and renewals were sent in much sooner than before,” Rocco said.
Some applicants, however, found themselves still waiting for their new permits well into October and even into November, a situation that has continued unresolved in 2011.
“It is important to note that business reply accounts are handled [at the post office] differently the standard mail,” Rocco said. “When the business reply mail [BRM] is sorted, it is forwarded to the business reply clerk who deducts the BRM postage from the city’s established account. Only then will the mail will be forwarded to the city for processing.”
This process, she said, can often result in delays. "Service from the post office has been inconsistent," Rocco said. "We have routinely seen postage coming in weeks after the postmark date during the renewal periods."
As a result, the city no longer relies on the business reply process, and instead uses regular postage stamps to expedite mail processing.
How the city responds to residents' complaints
As in other years, the flood of inquiries compelled the city to send out notices and install a recorded telephone message for callers, explaining that parking enforcement officers would honor last year’s permits until Oct. 15.
After that, according to the announcement, free temporary permits for multiple days would be available at three locations: , the King's Road Municipal Parking Structure, and the .
However, a sheriff's depty told Patch the station could in fact only issue overnight permits good until noon the next day. Multiple-day permits were never issued, the deputy said, even in the face of delivery delays.
Money an issue in making belated improvements
While tens of millions of dollars are being spent on capital projects in West Hollywood, Rocco explained that the permit parking program is operated from
a self-supporting fund, with all of the collected fees used exclusively for permit parking operations.
She said these include, but are not limited to, annual parking permit and visitor permit stock, annual permit renewal notices, postage and rocessing, processing of requests for new streets to be added to a permit district or changes to existing permit regulations, permit parking surveys and analyses of permit districts, and cost of purchasing and installing permit parking street signs.
“As a self-supporting fund,” she said, “the permit parking program cannot use funds from the General Fund that are earmarked for other programs,
nor is this fund affected by Capital Projects.”
The current fees are as follows: for residential permits, $15 for one, $35 for two, $70 for three, and $120 for four; for guest permits, $22 each, maximum of two per household. One-day visitor permits are free. According to Rocco, the fees are unlikely to increase next year.
“We consistently make every effort to keep all costs down to avoid annual increases to the permit fees,” she said. “We know how important the permit parking program is to our residents, and our goal is to constantly improve service and convenience for all residents, while keeping costs down.”