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Garage Sale Cop Cuts City in on Profits

May 10, 1990|KAREN E. KLEIN

MONROVIA — It is a clear, hot Saturday--prime time for most residents to putter in their gardens, lounge in the shade or fire up the barbecue. But at City Hall, one employee, clad in a yellow T-shirt and clutching a clipboard, is ready to hit the streets.

She drives a pickup, has a keen eye for illegal signs, and is determined to purge the city of outlaw yard sales. She's Sheila Spicer: Garage Sale Cop.

"Most people are pretty nice about it," said Spicer, a 28-year-old native Monrovian, as she set off on her rounds last weekend. "(But) I've had some people get really upset with me. They ask why they are paying tax dollars for me to do this. They ask why I'm not out arresting drug dealers."

It seems that the mainstay of suburban capitalism--the garage sale--has been regulated.

The city requires sellers to buy a $1.50 permit for their sales, hold no more than one sale every six months and comply with rules that prohibit the posting of signs on city property such as telephone poles, street-side trees and light standards.

Spicer, the city's business license officer, enforces the rules.

As part of her job, she crosses paths with yard sale mavens, confiscates cardboard signs and endures the grumbles of scofflaws.

Saturday, Spicer began her usual rounds--cruising up and down Foothill Boulevard--shortly after 9 a.m. She had only been on the road for 10 minutes when she spotted her first violation: a yellow sign posted illegally on a light pole at Foothill and Canyon boulevards.

She ripped the sign down and headed for the Monrovia Canyon address listed on it, stopping on the way to remove two more signs for the same sale.

She pulled up at the offending sale to find the garage open and the goods displayed on folding tables. Two couples sat in the shade of the garage door, eyeing her with curiosity.

"You look so official," said the seller, Diane Parker.

"I am," Spicer replied. "I'm from City Hall."

Spicer gave her standard 30-second explanation of the garage sale policy and determined that Parker and her husband, Steve, had not obtained a permit. She also let them know that she had their hand-painted signs in the back of her truck.

"You can't do anything anymore, it seems like," Diane Parker grumbled. "Everything is so restrictive."

Spicer offered to sell the permit to the Parkers. Like virtually all of the illegal sellers Spicer encounters, they promptly agreed. "It's not more than $3, is it? That's all we've made so far," Steve Parker said.

"Thank you," Spicer said as she took the cash.

"Well, I won't say you're welcome," Parker replied.

As Spicer walked to her truck, Parked added sardonically: "While you're here, if there's anything you want, let us know."

On busy, warm weekends, Spicer ruthlessly pulls down dozens of handmade signs and visits 20 or 30 garage sales like the Parkers', selling permits and explaining the rules. (The city also publicizes the policy in its newsletter, Monrovia Today.)

Sometimes, a couple of hours after Spicer takes the illegal signs down, sellers sneak out and tack up new ones.

She rips those down, too. She said she has confiscated more than 100 signs on a single Saturday.

Like the Parkers, most of the sellers that Spicer hunts down say they were not aware of the permit policy. Along with keeping the streets clear of cardboard signs, the policy helps the city keep track of perennial garage sales that spark complaints from neighbors about traffic and noise, Spicer said.

When she's not raiding garage sales, Spicer handles permit matters involving the city's approximately 2,000 businesses. She makes the rounds of yard sales just about every Saturday during the spring and summer. And even though people sometimes complain about being unfairly singled out, Spicer said the city has been actively enforcing the sign and permit law for four years, taking in about $1,000 in fees annually.

On Saturday, she had barely driven away from the Parkers' sale when she noticed signs leading her to the second illegal sale of the day, also at a hillside home near the city's new Gold Hills development.

A small crowd had already gathered and begun sifting through books, furniture and bric-a-brac strewn over the driveway. The seller, a man who said he had not held a garage sale before and was unaware of the city regulations, bought a permit with little complaint.

But one of his customers, a man purchasing a stack of road maps, jumped into the act.

"Boy, they take all the fun out of everything nowadays," he groaned, watching Spicer collect her fee. "You'll have him doubling the prices now to pay for the permit."

Spicer just smiled coolly, explaining that the sign requirements and the permits help the city deal with sales that might get out of hand. The city hopes her presence at garage sales will educate people on how to hold a sale legally the next time.

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