The biggest Christmas present in Woodland Hills came gift-wrapped from a shopping center. And like many other presents, it is going to be returned now that the holiday season is over.
The Promenade shopping center is returning 500 parking spaces to Los Angeles transportation officials after using city streets as an extension of the mall's parking lot during the Christmas season.
Street parking is normally prohibited in Warner Center's commercial district.
But mall operators paid the city $2,200 to cover dozens of no-parking signs on streets next to their center for the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's week.
The experiment has proven popular not only among merchants but also among Warner Center office workers, who complain that there is not enough free parking in the area. At least one major employer in the area, Blue Cross of California, has asked that parking always be allowed on the streets.
Next week, however, the wrappings will come off the no-parking signs, city officials say. After that, parking enforcement officers' ticket books will come out when parked cars are spotted in prohibited zones on Owensmouth Avenue and Oxnard, Erwin and Califa streets.
City officials waived the restrictions after deciding that street parking would reduce congestion and improve safety near the 35-acre mall during the holiday season.
Such a waiver is unusual. At other San Fernando Valley shopping centers, parking and traffic rules have been tightened--not loosened--during holiday periods.
Temporary left-turn restrictions were imposed at Northridge Fashion Center this season. And in the past, holiday parking bans have been imposed on streets near North Hollywood's Valley Plaza shopping center, city officials said.
"During the Christmas holidays, the Promenade generates so much traffic that on-street parking alleviates so many problems," Ken Dietz, city transportation engineer for the West Valley, said Thursday. "People would be driving in and out of the parking lots and driving all over the neighborhood looking for parking spaces if we didn't do this.
"This on-street parking has reduced a lot of turning movements in that area."
Promenade mall officials say the holiday street parking was arranged primarily to accommodate employees of their 91 stores. The 12-year-old mall has room for 2,420 cars in its parking lot.
Shoppers also took advantage of the extra parking on days such as Dec. 26, when the Promenade parking lot was full, a mall spokeswoman said.
The street parking probably will be missed most by office workers at nearby high-rises, who must pay to park in private lots or hunt for spaces blocks from their buildings.
"They ought to let us park here year-round," said Jill Singleton, a Blue Cross of California employee who works in a 14-story building on Owensmouth Avenue, across from the shopping center. "I normally have to park four or five blocks away. It would be wonderful if they would let us park here all the time."
City officials said they have received several requests for year-round street parking from Blue Cross but rejected them, citing traffic conditions in Warner Center.
Because the Blue Cross parking lot cannot accommodate the firm's 2,700 workers, the company recently reserved 200 parking spaces in a new garage near the nearly finished Marriott Hotel, Blue Cross administrator Jane Totten said Thursday.
Other Warner Center businessmen say they support street parking during the holidays but not year-round.
"Year-round parking would take away the ambiance of Warner Center," realtor James R. Gary said Thursday. "Without street parking, this area takes on an almost college-campus effect, with green landscaping and berms and meandering sidewalks that are visible to passing motorists."