By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Some worry that the difficulty and cost of simply visiting the new Hollywood on weekend nights will spell its doom. They describe an unregulated free-for-all in which attendants routinely raise prices based on what they think the market will bear.
While the city’s municipal code makes allowances for rates to change three times during the day, it forbids these kinds of spontaneous switches. It mandates that parking lots clearly post their prices at their entrances. But parking lots now form the laissez-faire frontier of a new Hollywood economy, in which club owners routinely incur daytime parking tickets in front of their venues so that at night they can use the valuable real estate as pedestrian space for their clubs’ overflow.
Unless they enter lots operated by Grant and Sunshine, two companies that appear to comply with the rules, most weekend-night drivers are likely to confront completely blank signboards — even though the municipal code states that prices must be visible from the street and cannot be arbitrarily raised during the course of business.
Sabet said his lots do not change prices, even when informed that his attendants were observed doing so over the course of several weekends. Instead, he explains that his lots charge a $35 “VIP fee” for drivers wishing to locate closer to Avalon. Still, at midnight one Saturday night, a sign announcing $40 for everyone in the Avalon lot was slapped over one that had advertised $25 for the same parking.
Like the signs on many lots north of Hollywood Boulevard, it was posted deep inside the property. By the time drivers reach an attendant’s booth and discover the price, a line of cars has impatiently built up behind them, and at that point drivers are not likely to turn around and look for street parking. One middle-aged red jacket on Ivar, who was windmilling a flashlight in front of a lot across from Joseph’s Cafe, was asked his lot’s admission.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “ask my boss!”
When run to ground, his boss was equally frank: “I have no idea.” (A few weeks later a $25 sign appeared — but was only visible to cars leaving the Ivar lot.)
This scene is repeated elsewhere; at Forbidden City’s valet station, an attendant is asked the same question and shrugs.
“$15? $20?” the man says, nodding toward another attendant who is opening a visitor’s car door. “He’s charging.”
One hundred feet away, a self-parking lot bearing a PCA logo sports a blank sign at its entrance with a second one beneath it: “SUVs & Trucks Pay $5.00 Extra. VIP Pays $10.00 Extra.” However, it isn’t until drivers reach the attendant station that they’re told the base rate is $40. PCA’s Stevenson acknowledges the municipal code’s signage requirement. When it’s pointed out that his lot across from Avalon doesn’t post prices that can abruptly jump $20 during an evening, he replies that at night PCA’s spaces are subleased to other companies. Welcome to the Wild West on wheels.
ON A BUSY SATURDAY NIGHT the LAPD is handcuffing a young valet attendant in front of Avalon — not for jacking up the price of parking but as part of a crackdown in which valets’ driver’s licenses are checked for warrants. “He’s not parking any more cars tonight,” a cop says as he leads the kid, wearing a yellow windbreaker, to a patrol car.
The revitalization of Hollywood was founded on a build-it-and-they-will-come assumption — the more you cleaned up the boulevard, the more nightlife you encouraged. The planners forgot one thing: In Los Angeles the operating principle is Build It and They Will Park. The invisible hand of the free market may resurrect Hollywood and make three-quarter-million-dollar condos possible, but in the parking lots that hand is bitch-slapping weekend visitors.
West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip is another heavily trafficked weekend destination that also frequently experiences bottlenecks, but never seems to suffer the parking triage that defines Hollywood Boulevard. Los Angeles’ municipal code (which governs Hollywood) is very similar to West Hollywood’s — the difference is that West Hollywood’s codes are enforced, while L.A.’s are not.
Los Angeles’ off-site parking lots must seek permits that are approved and enforced by the Los Angeles Police Commission’s Investigation Division (CID). Before his recent retirement, CID Detective Manuel Arujo discussed the problems of enforcing code provisions for parking.
“We have two full-time officers to check on permit compliances,” Arujo says. “It would be better to make lots post their prices, but we have to approach the code in the spirit of the law and not to enforce it to the letter. It’s kind of like not giving a ticket to someone driving 60 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. We’ve got to pick our fights.”
CID Detective Gary Guevera agrees and says that there is no way to police parking without committing precious manpower resources to parking-lot stings.
“When we’ve got a chronic problem in Hollywood we’ll put together a task force. [But this means] one police officer has to sit there, watch money be exchanged, and can only cite one employee. We then need to transfer the citation to the owner. Is this the best use of law-enforcement manpower?”