Valet parking attendants, take note.
Faced with a surge in complaints from citizens, Los Angeles officials have stepped up their inspection of valet parking services at some of the city's trendiest restaurants--and many are found to be breaking the law.
In fact, if city ordinances governing valet parking were enforced to the letter of the law, most services would have to make major changes in how they park cars, or shut altogether, officials said Friday.
"Almost everybody that's out there is in violation," Detective Albert Perez of the police Commission Investigation Division said.
Lt. Stella Mattson, commanding officer of the division, said the law does not allow a private venture, such as a restaurant, to use public streets for parking. In essence, a car must be picked up on private property--not on a public street--and driven continuously on private property to its final parking place, she said.
The law, which has been on the books for about 30 years but rarely enforced, also requires signs advertising valet parking to be posted on private property, not on a public street.
Restaurant owners, pointing out that many eateries are located on narrow streets with little available parking, said complying with all details of the law is nearly impossible.
"If I don't have valet parking, none of my customers are going to be able to eat lunch here," said Jayson Kane, an owner of the Columbia Bar and Grill on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. "They could cripple us."
The restaurant is one of several that have received warnings in recent weeks from police inspectors who found illegal valet parking practices. Others include Citrus and Patina, both on Melrose Avenue, and Qs, an upscale billiard parlor on Wilshire Boulevard, Mattson said.
"This place is loaded with celebrities," Kane said, ticking off a list of names. "They love our restaurant and never had a problem with the valet parking. And then you get hit with this."
Kane said the attendants who work at the Columbia Bar and Grill pick up diners' cars on the curb in front of the restaurant and then drive them to a private parking lot that Kane and his partners purchased five years ago. The attendants do not park the cars on public streets, Kane said, yet the mere use of the street to go to the lot is, technically, a violation of the law.
None of the restaurants has been fined. Police said that if warnings are ignored, citations could follow and a parking service could be shut down for repeated violations.
Mattson said her office in the last month or so has been receiving numerous complaints from Los Angeles residents regarding valet parking services at restaurants on the Westside, in the Valley and elsewhere.
The complaints have ranged from attendants who drive recklessly or double park, to the use of residential streets to park the cars, Mattson said. Few people realize, she said, that the person who turns his or her car over to a valet is liable if it hits a pedestrian or crashes into another vehicle.
Several restaurant owners contacted the offices of City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents Hollywood, when they learned of the new enforcement effort. In response, police and other officials have agreed to review the ordinances.
Diana Brueggemann, Woo's senior field deputy, said the law may be outdated and impractical in today's Los Angeles, and may have to be changed.
"We are not advocating that it's OK to double park and screw up traffic, but the simple pulling up to a curb, getting out and going into a restaurant is not a hazard," she said.