Hats off to TV news reporter Anna Garcia and producer Fred Mamoun of KNBC 4 in Los Angeles for revealing one of LA’s dirtiest little secrets last week: It turns out valet parking services regularly and illegally put down orange cones or post fake signs or jam parking meters so that they can commandeer more curb space for the convenience of their customers. Curb space that would otherwise be providing affordable parking to other citizens.In a separate online interview, Garcia readily concedes that most people have the same “I knew it!” reaction to the information. Still, the Garcia/Mamoun video report had a kind of thrilling, almost electric vibe to it for those who love “gotcha” situations. (Enter “Hijacking the Streets” at KNBC’s website) Garcia is seen repeatedly confronting valets and their bosses over fake “No Parking” signs, paper clips jammed in meters, and video revealing that valets use customer vehicles to shuttle other valets back and forth. Here at last was a local news story that hit all of us right where we live: In posh restaurants on the Westside. (Everybody in LA does live on the Westside, right?) But much as I enjoyed the video of Garcia tightening the vise grip she had on the offenders, I was almost certain I could hear the guilty parties uttering “Duh!” under their breath.Not because it doesn’t matter; it does. First of all, I’m hopeful that Garcia and Mamoun will do a much-needed follow up which should logically answer the question “Who is it, exactly, in city government that has been looking the other way on this?” It’s simply impossible that city government bureaucrats don’t know about these practices, and clear that while knowing they’ve ignored pursuing enforcement. Secondly whether or not “Parking-gate” becomes a runner for KNBC, the story clearly underlined a recurring theme for readers of this column: That life for some in LA is always more convenient because agencies intended to represent all citizens are somehow more flexible for the convenience-demanding few. We were in this area a few weeks ago in discussing the FAA’s dithering and interference in allowing Santa Monica to limit business jet traffic at the Santa Monica Airport. I’m sorry but… Garcia’s report proves that valet services at high-end eateries are forging street signs, posting forged street signs, operating night after night by the bogus power of orange cones, and literally stealing revenue by appropriating metered spaces. There’s a long list of violations in those behaviors and yet all of its business as usual. Why? There’s no relationship to these events occurring at eateries for the privileged?It’s important to note that Santa Monica was cited by Garcia and Mamoun as one city having strict valet regulation involving restricted permits that require revenue-producing fees and proof of insurance. That’s good and notable. It may be little consolation on those evenings when you’re backed up behind yet another valet jam-up in front of a trendy restaurant, while the eatery patrons are giving each other a half dozen fake hugs curbside with the engines in their idled cars running. Finally you pull around them, driving into the on-coming lane… because now they’ve got you driving crazy to accommodate them.But hey, as Woody Allen famously responded when challenged by a girl friend about his masturbation habits, “Don’t knock my hobbies!” Because these people can afford to dine out often they create work for valets and waiters and cooks and– Nobody is out to restructure society here. Still, our beautifully diversified metropolis should not look away if let’s say hypothetically one strata of citizens finds that their humble cafés and grocery stores must strictly obey city codes while another strata brazenly appropriates public streets so that somebody doesn’t have to walk half a block to retrieve their Lexus.Full disclosure: As a Midwesterner moving to LA in the 90’s, it was not easy for me to adjust to the valet parking customs of Southern California. I remember being in Malibu once and paying $7 and a tip to park the car so that two of us could get out of the heat and have soft drinks. There was something severely nonsensical about it… at the time. Months later I paid $12 for a hamburger and $50 for a haircut and the cosmos here came into sharper focus.Reporter Ana Garcia observed it would be difficult to consider “calling the cops” on something like bogus valet parking signs when police have far more critical 24/7 safety issues to tend to. But it won’t be pointless for Garcia and her producer to follow-up on this story and get those city government names. Especially with her story breaking at the very moment Mayor Villaraigosa is pursuing auctioning off LA parking meters and parking structures, hoping that privatizing them will bring much-needed revenue. Sorry, Antonio, but you’re too late. Apparently a lot of LA city parking has already been “privatized.”
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