Question: On Nov 23 I went to Ralph's market at Wilshire Boulevard and Bundy Drive on Saturday afternoon, as usual; parked in the store's lot, as usual; bought a week's supply of groceries for us--some $80 worth--as usual; stood in line the usual 20 minutes to pay for it. This whole exercise in aggravation takes a couple of hours.
When I staggered out with my cart heaped with Ralph's wares, there was the following nasty notice on my windshield.
"Warning--Read It! Private Property: The use of this parking facility is restricted to customers While Shopping Only--1 Hour Limit. You have been found in violation of posted parking regulation. Your license number has been recorded, and any further violation will result in your car being ticketed by police and/or towed away at your own expense. LAMC 80-71-4, Sec. 22658 CVC By Parking Patrol Corp."
(And under this grim warning are spaces filled in with the make of your car, your license number, the date, the time, the location and the name of the security officer issuing the warning.)
They say they've got my license number on a list, and next time I commit this "violation" they will have police ticket me or tow my car away.
Who can buy groceries for a family in an hour on a Saturday (never mind it being the Saturday before Thanksgiving) and why should one have to? I have spent thousands of dollars in this store and have never once parked my car there for an unreasonable length of time.
I am mad on principle. I fight their mobs and buy their food and then get harassed and threatened for not doing it quickly enough.
On a practical level, I'm afraid to shop there again now that they say they have my license number on their call-the-police list.--J.M.
Answer: In terms of tact, perhaps, the parking-violation notice does, indeed, sound like something issued by a Nazi occupation force in World War II.
But, if the threat of being towed is to be made, however, it's a legal requirement that a warning to that effect be issued first, and--like a notification that your appeal for clemency has been denied--it's a difficult thing to phrase in a jolly way.
What we have here, according to both Bob Hagstrom, manager of Ralph's store at Wilshire and Bundy, and to Jan Charles Gray, a vice president of the grocery chain, is an unusual set of congestion circumstances--even by the standards of an industry that, traditionally, has freeloaders taking up its customers' parking spaces.
"Satellite" stores that, by mutual agreement, share the supermarket's parking lot aren't normally a major problem unless the nature of them encourages a traffic that lingers--such as a popular restaurant that caters to the leisurely, three-martini-type diner. At Wilshire and Bundy, this doesn't seem to be the case, but the complex is shared by an exercise salon where, again, the clientele isn't exactly the sort of fast-drop-in, drop-out traffic attracted by a doughnut shop.
"Both at Wilshire and Bundy," Gray adds, "and at our location at 3rd Street and San Vicente Boulevard, we've got a mix of nearby commercial locations that give us a lot of problems. At Bundy, for instance, we've got a large medical office building across from us with inadequate parking and with all of those office workers who don't want to pay $5 or $6 a day. Without this sort of hour-limit policy, our entire lot would be filled with them all day."
Also, store manager Hagstrom adds that an adjacent street with several large apartment complexes is closed to parking (on alternate sides) for street cleaning two days a week.
"So, all of these tenants on those days find our lot a convenient place to park. It's not our responsibility to provide parking for everybody in the neighborhood who needs it--it's to our customers, and we're certainly not trying to make it difficult for them.
"People all shop differently," Hagstrom notes.
"You've got some who will drop in, zip up and down the aisles and, boom! they're gone. You've got others who will come in, spend three hours and go out with 10 baskets. Be my guest! They may get a warning notice because they took so long, but we're sure not going to have them towed. In fact, nobody is ever towed until the security people check with me first--so the chances are pretty slim."
If Ralph's parking problems at Wilshire and Bundy are bad, Gray adds, they are--if anything--even worse at the company's store at 3rd and San Vicente, another giant congestion area.
"We've got people who want to park in our lot and walk over to the hospital, Cedars-Sinai, and we're also across the street from Beverly Center. So, without this sort of policy, we'd have the hospital people parking all day for nothing, and we'd have the Beverly Center shoppers who would rather avoid the hassle of the garage, park in our lot and walk over to the center."