As Chairman of the Public Works Commission for the City of Paramount, Alfredo Bañuelos has made it one of his missions to bring fairness to key parking issues faced by residents in some of the City’s densest neighborhoods. He is a resident of Paramount’s so-called “Gasoline Streets” (as the City refers to the community encompassing the streets of Richfield, Exeter, Petrol, and Texaco). Since 2016, he has been pressuring the City to address the blatant parking injustices that have been plaguing residents for decades, particularly around the question of municipal parking fines—that have profoundly impaired household budgets and deteriorated the quality of life in the community.
The street-sweeping arrangements are a key precedent that encapsules how residents have been unduly burdened by parking grievance. In an interview with Political Life, Mr. Bañuelos described a demoralizing scenario in which a street sweeping time of 4AM was being strictly enforced, with no alternative parking spaces available. Residents were expected to wake-up as many as three times in the same morning: Every street-sweeping Thursday, starting from 4AM, proceeding at 6AM, and finally at 7AM. Tow trucks patrolled the neighborhood at night, searching for vehicles to tow under the slightest pretext; a practice shared by the City’s Parking Enforcement, and that produced economic spiraling effects for the entire local economy. “At night, they would creep into the gateless buildings with their lights off, hook the cars up quickly and speed-off into the street, at times burning rubber in Grand Theft Auto style,” says Bañuelos.
It’s been little over a year since the neighborhood’s grievance was acknowledged by City Manager John Moreno, and the street-sweeping schedule was changed. Yet Mr. Bañuelos confesses to still, to this day, waking-up in a panic about moving the household’s vehicles. He emphasizes the harsh economic impact on household budgets, and the potential for physical and mental illness caused by enduring such stressful burdens: “Indifference to exploitative practices that allow for towing companies and City budgets to profit at the expense of hard-working families should be seen as complicity,” says Mr. Bañuelos, referring to the City’s role.
Street-sweeping schedules are now later in the mornings, but the parking problems persist as the City refuses to allow open areas around the neighborhood to be used as additional parking spaces. On a daily basis, residents continue to expend undue time and effort into finding a parking space. Such circumstances have inevitably led to tensions amongst neighbors, further tarnishing the quality of life and exacerbating stress levels.
The local parking burdens are further fueled by a lack of adequate pick-up and drop-off space for Howard Tanner Elementary School parents. Additionally, Mr. Bañuelos reproaches the City for having recently proposed that the Southern California Edison land, adjacent to Salud Park, be utilized as a recreational Community Garden space when he has been advocating for its use to directly benefit the neighboring residents—who have been devastated by the Public Safety Enforcement agents and towing companies for years now. Bañuelos states that while he does “recognize the value of a Community Garden, the activity in itself is reserved for a particular privileged demographic that does not include the residents of this neighborhood, further leading to worsening the problem and all at the expense of those living here. Perhaps we may be able to arrive at a compromise but the immediate situation here cannot continue to be ignored.”
Most recently, Mr. Bañuelos has been calling on the City to reactivate the Parking Committee with little success. “We need bold and innovative approaches, and the City Manager and officials need to start being receptive to the people’s needs and demands; they only put-up a front every time election season comes around and then go back to screwing and ignoring us. We need reform around the issue of municipal fines, especially during these economically depressing times of the pandemic.”
City Manager John Moreno has denied the importance of hearing and addressing the people’s needs on the matter by refusing to open the Parking Committee, stating to Bañuelos that the Committee must remain suspended indefinitely due to meetings not being able to be carried out in person. Mr. Bañuelos points to this in the context of Moreno allowing for other Committees and City business to be carried out remotely. By virtue of being Chairman of the Public Works Commission, Mr. Bañuelos is automatically entitled to a seat on the Parking Committee Board; leading the community to suspect that City Manager John Moreno’s decision is retaliation for Mr. Bañuelos’s public criticisms and an unabashed attempt to block any attempt at progressive reform.
According to the City of Paramount’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year of 2020, the City received more than seven million dollars in accumulated revenue from Vehicle License Fees and Fines and Penalties alone, highlighting how lucrative residential vehicle congestion can be for a small municipality.
Mr. Bañuelos chuckles and sighs in relief while noting that, “At least we’re no longer able to see zombie-like walking people, shivering in the cold streets and covered in blankets at 3:50 AM to move their cars. After years of trauma, the neighborhood has one less problem to worry about.” However, it was only until after his candidacy for the office of City Councilmember in 2020 was official that this resolution came about. Although not elected, Mr. Bañuelos was appointed to the Public Works Commission by Councilperson Laurie Guillen, where he now presides over the Board of Commissioners and continues to advocate for residents.
According to TransparentCalifornia.com, City Manager John Moreno currently earns an annual salary and benefits package of just over $400,000. In addition, he has a generous severance package valued in the millions awaiting him in the event of termination. Moreno is currently in his twenty-eighth year of employment with the City.
“As a community of residents, we need to reevaluate the relationship that we have with our local governments, and the role we each play in permitting such injustices to be perpetrated on our neighbors—silence is complicity. Let us not forget, they work for us. And behind each of the City’s agent branches is a person with a name and address, making decisions that damage our families, in a City where they don’t even live in” states Mr. Bañuelos.
Bañuelos can be reached at ParamountCommissioner@gmail.com