PICO RIVERA — The man in the double-breasted suit was in no mood to talk. He had parked his shiny BMW under a shade tree on Crossway Drive and was walking briskly toward Washington Boulevard and the Northrop plant.
Asked why he parked on a city street rather than in a Northrop parking lot, he mumbled, "It's a helluva a lot closer--period."
With that, he crossed Washington and entered the giant aerospace firm's plant, refusing to give his name or job title.
The reason: He's a wanted man by both his employer and the city of Pico Rivera for parking on residential streets rather than on Northrop property.
Residents in the quiet neighborhoods north of the plant are bugged by the BMW driver with the monogramed briefcase and others like him who clog their streets from dawn to dusk. About 150 homeowners recently sent to the City Council petitions calling for action to curb the parking problem.
It's not illegal to park on city streets, but residents near the Northrop plant say workers have abused the privilege by turning their neighborhoods of small tract homes and edged lawns into all-day parking lots.
On some days, homeowners like Ralph Marra complain they can't even come or go because parked cars block their driveways.
"I'm really getting sick of this," said Marra, who is retired and has lived in the same house in the 6600 block of Crossway for 34 years. "I know they have rights, but so do we, and it's about time they show some respect.
"How would they like it if I parked in front of their house all day," he said, surveying the string of parked cars on Crossway recently. "It's a real pain in the neck."
Problem Being Studied
The city, said Mayor Gil De La Rosa, is studying the problem, and may be forced to restrict daytime parking on Crossway and nearby streets to discourage Northrop workers.
The company has tried to persuade its employees to steer clear of city streets.
Several bulletins and newsletters have been circulated among the plant's 8,000 workers asking them to use Northrop lots only. Company officials even went into surrounding neighborhoods one day and put fliers on the car windshields of suspected Northrop employees urging them to park elsewhere.
"We want to be good neighbors and get our employees out of there," said Northrop spokesman Terry Clawson. "But there's only so much we can do. . . . They're not breaking any law."
The company even opened a new 1,100-space lot south of the plant, with a shuttle bus to move workers to and from offices spread across the 200-acre facility on Washington between Paramount and Rosemead boulevards.
But nothing has dissuaded those stubborn employees who continue to park on streets like Crossway, Keltonview and Carron.
The reason is simply a matter of convenience, De La Rosa said.
Although Northrop has more than enough parking for its employees, much of it is a long way from working areas at the plant, the mayor said. And during shift changes, the rush of employees leaving at about the same time creates a bottleneck as workers wait for traffic lights to exit onto Rosemead and Washington boulevards.
To get a jump on their fellow workers, a handful of employees began parking on city streets north of the plant a few years ago.
But the problem has gotten worse as Northrop has expanded, gearing up for the design and manufacturer of the highly secret Stealth bomber, an aircraft designed to be invisible to radar. In less than a year, Northrop has hired almost 1,500 new employees at its Pico Rivera plant, which houses the company's advanced-systems division. The facility used to be an automobile assembly plant until Ford Motor Co. sold it to Northrop in 1982.
Longtime residents like Jessie Bernard, who has lived in the 8700 block of Carron Drive for 35 years, say they never had trouble with Ford because the company employed only about a third as many workers, so parking was never a problem.
"It's been getting much worse," said Bernard. It was Bernard who initially contacted De La Rosa about the parking problem. In turn, the mayor said he encouraged Bernard to circulate petitions to drum up support for her position.
Getting Fed Up
"Believe me it didn't take long to get the signatures," Bernard said. "People are just fed up with this."
Like many in her neighborhood of retirees and low income families, Bernard said she has confronted several Northrop employees. On a recent morning, a man driving a Mercedes Benz parked in front of her house. One glance at the parking sticker on his bumper told Bernard that he worked at Northrop. She had planned that day to fertilize and water her newly seeded front lawn, but she feared she might spray the expensive import car so she asked the driver to move it.
He did, but Bernard says, "Should I have to do that? This is my house and should be able to do what I want when I want."
Police said that so far there have been no reports of vandalism to employee's cars. However, some residents have stuffed notes in car doors and under windshield wipers asking drivers to park elsewhere.
Plenty of Space
If parking was tight at the plant, Bernard said, she would be more sympathetic to those workers who park on her street.
"But there's plenty of spaces over there," she said. "All they're trying to do is cut a few corners, save a few minutes at our expense."
On Crossway, Marra wants the city to ban parking on the street between 6 and 9 a.m. in the morning.
However, De La Rosa said that may not be enough. A two-hour limit all day may be the only way to put the brakes to employees parking on city streets, the mayor said.
"It's a headache, no question," said De La Rosa, who praised Northrop's efforts to solve the problem. "But I think it's now up to the city to do something."