SAN DIEGO (KSWB) – Parking tickets are a sight no one wants to see on their windshield. But, with millions of drivers across the state, citations in California are commonplace.

So what do California drivers get dinged for the most?

While there is no cohesive statewide numbers, an analysis of open data in some of California’s biggest cities – San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego – by Nexstar’s KSWB found that the lion’s share of citations issued by parking enforcement agencies are for street sweeping.

San Francisco had the highest number of citations issued for this kind of violation, with about 499,261 tickets given out by enforcement agencies in 2022. 

Los Angeles and San Diego residents saw roughly 478,576 and 118,668 tickets last year respectively – although San Diego had not yet published December violations at the time of KSWB’s analysis.

Meter violations in Los Angeles and San Francisco made up the second highest number of tickets issued in 2022, while commuter lane parking violations made up the second highest number of citations in San Diego.

“So much can vary city to city based on how parking enforcement is done,” Aravind Boddupalli, research associate with the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, said to KSWB. “There are definitely other factors at play when it comes to policing and ticketing patterns and to look at all of that, we need better information and more data from city officials.”

While research is limited on greater parking citation trends, he said that there are a couple possible explanations for the enforcement patterns seen in these cities, specifically looking to differences in neighborhood infrastructure and if governments have a revenue incentive.

Commercial corridors are often subject to higher enforcement of parking violations, as there is usually greater demand for space and services with more people looking to access those areas. These are also areas likely to have more metered spaces.

Neighborhoods with higher concentrations of residents could also see greater parking enforcement compared to others depending on parking availability and calls for service.

In San Francisco, the office that enforces violations, the Municipal Transportation Agency, said that is generally why more tickets are issued in their jurisdiction compared to other cities.

“It goes without saying that how people interact with San Francisco city streets and what brings them to San Francisco would differ than what you’d see in many cities across California,” SFMTA spokesperson, Erica Kato, said in an emailed statement to KSWB.

“San Francisco has more detailed parking rules and needs more parking enforcement than other cities, because it’s the densest city in California (and the) Bay Area,” Kato continued. “The city has narrow, busy streets with far more residents and businesses per block.”

However, experts say this variety in neighborhood infrastructure can create disparities in regards to who exactly is fronting the burden of parking citation fines.

One recent study of Los Angeles parking citations examined this exact issue. 

Analyzing tickets issued in 2016, the study found that – accounting for characteristics that might impact parking demand – a greater number of tickets were issued in neighborhoods with a greater number of renter-occupied units, younger adults and Black residents.

Similarly, the study found that street sweeping was the largest portion of tickets issued by the Los Angeles parking enforcement agencies.

Noli Brazil, assistant professor in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis and the researcher behind the study, said that he suspects this was likely the case due to the ease at which parking enforcement agencies can monitor street cleaning.

“Street cleaning is a relatively easy citation to pick up, because it’s defined in a certain time period on a certain day of the week,” Brazil said. “It’s easy to have your parking ticket agents go during that time period and sort of pick off cars that are in violation, whereas like a parking meter, you have to monitor it over the course of the day.”

For some cities, Brazil said, easy-to-issue parking citations can be used as a tool for local governments to make up for budget short-falls, as seen in Ferguson, Missouri: “(There) the enforcement agencies were actually saying, we need to meet the shortfalls of our budget and parking tickets are just an easy way to do that.”

Between San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, tickets for street sweeping violations are estimated to total around $83.9 million in fines for 2022. Open data in these cities do not have any information on exactly how much was paid per ticket or if any were outstanding.

“What we’ve also seen broadly in fines and fees, is that it’s almost never just the fine,” Boddupalli said. “It’s never just about deterring future violations or punishing those who were violating…there’s always stacked on fees and surcharges (that) often go to cover administrative costs of governments.”

“That can embed an earned fiscal incentive for governments to levy more tickets, to raise more revenue to fund governments programs, some of which ought to be funded from general revenue or taxes instead,” he continued.

As broader debates concerning biases in law enforcement practices gain momentum, Brazil said that parking ticketing patterns should be included in those conversations.

“If (governments) decide to increase parking ticket costs — which they’ve done in LA numerous times — who’s going to carry the burden of those costs?,” he said. “It’s going to be those (neighborhoods with higher enforcement), because they’re the ones that are more targeted.”