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
Still, Guevera says CID is not running away from the problem.
“It’s a high priority for the police commission,” he says. “It’s become a squeaky wheel because of the complaints we hear from merchants.”
Hollywood parking is worse on Saturdays than Fridays, and if the Pantages and Henry Fonda theaters are both running shows, then the Sunshine Parking lots on Hollywood Boulevard will pack out early, creating a ripple effect from there to Cahuenga. Nevertheless, at 10 p.m. on a typical weekend, a few scattered open spaces at the area’s 829 parking meters can still be found just east of Vine, although Hollywood Boulevard traffic is starting to congeal by now.
Around 10:30, though, as the Pantages audiences begin to spill out of Rent or Wicked, Hollywood and Vine is transforming. This time of night is the tipping point, that third-drink moment when drivers suddenly stop making the lights and cease moving, when petite women in cocktail dresses go Tourette’s on those ursine doormen with ear buds and when the price of parking mysteriously goes up in the places Councilman Eric Garcetti calls “the crazy lots.”
Garcetti, the 13th District councilman who represents virtually all of the territory on which sit Hollywood’s clubs, believes the parking problem has been exaggerated. “We don’t get a lot of calls about it,” Garcetti says. “It’s not the folks in the hills complaining that [they] can’t get into Mood. Club owners are complaining about it, but most people know you don’t have to valet park. It’s the first-time visitors who don’t know where to go.” (In fact, it’s cheaper to valet park at the lots north of the boulevard, where the charge is usually $15.)
According to Garcetti, the problem is actually that Hollywood has too much parking available along the boulevard between Highland Avenue and Gower Street. Much to the annoyance of some local businesses and homeowner groups, he dissuaded the Clarett Group planners from adding more than the minimum number of residential parking spaces to the Nederlander property that Clarett will soon develop around the Pantages — hoping, he says, to nudge people into taking public transportation. Ben Resnick, a lawyer and spokesman for Clarett, says that as a result, there will be 175 fewer spaces available to residents in the new development.
“Hollywood has the potential to be this experiment of urban living in L.A., but it’s not going to happen overnight,” says Kerry Morrison about Garcetti’s promotion of public transportation. Morrison is president of the Hollywood Entertainment District, one of L.A. County’s 30 business-improvement districts. “It will be years until Hollywood settles into its new framework and until all the planned subterranean parking is built.”
ONE SPINOFF FROM THE PARKING MESS ?has been the infestation of bandit tow trucks, whose rise has become a national problem since Congress deregulated the industry in 1994. The level of abuse by some L.A. tow-truck operators has become so high that Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg recently pushed through a predatory tow-truck operator law, although the kinds of lots it covers (primarily the kind maintained by supermarkets and strip malls) will do little to help victims of rogue operators in private off-street lots.
“Tow-truck companies operate on .?.?.” says Unified Parking’s Sabet, trailing off to think of the right phrase. “Well, let’s just call it a kickback system. They actually tell us, ‘Look, we’ll give you $20 for every car we tow — just call us and we’ll do the rest.’ They come to us. It kind of goes under the table.”
Sabet, who has owned Unified since 1978, says many drivers try to slip onto lots unnoticed and that his policy is to place a bill on the windshield of drivers who have gotten into the lots without paying and, if they show up a second time after not paying, to have them towed. Virtually every major Hollywood lot north of the boulevard, including Sabet’s, post placards bearing the name and number of Quick Lift Towing service, which, last summer, the City Attorney’s Office slapped with an indictment involving multiple counts of extortion and illegal towing. (Representatives of the company, which pleaded no contest in October to the charges, did not respond to interview requests from the Weekly.)
Peggy Holter learned about Quick Lift the hard way when she returned to her car, which was parked in a mini-mall on Hillhurst Avenue, after a 10-minute coffee stop and found it up on a tow-truck hoist. The tow-truck driver told her it would cost her $120 to get the car down and pointed out a nearby ATM machine. “You’re stunned,” says Holter, a former producer of NBC’s Dateline news program, who was a plaintiff in the city attorney’s suit against Quick Lift. “You feel, Oh my god, these people have all that power over me. I had an ATM card, but this company preyed on a lot of poor and helpless people.”
“The basic problem is you have tow-truck companies patrolling parking lots,” says Gary Minzer, owner of Hollywood Tow Service, adding that operators are only supposed to arrive at the summons of a lot owner’s agent, who must then give written authorization for the tow. “This makes the [towing] company judge and jury on which cars to tow.”