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Altering space and time

New parking system causes confusion, some anger on first night, even with attendance light.

March 30, 2007|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Tom Leba pushed his wheelchair-bound wife up a hill, then down the other side during a journey through the Dodger Stadium parking lot Thursday, wheezing a bit as he walked.

The couple has been coming to games for 34 years, the last two of which Barbara Ward has been confined to a wheelchair because of an equilibrium problem.

"We always would go to Lot G before," said Leba, who lives in Culver City. "The guy there would always let us in, so we could be in a handicap spot. I couldn't get to Lot G today."

Thursday he walked from Lot 1 on the outer rim of the stadium to Lot G. After the Lebas waited five minutes, his benefactor, now a supervisor, showed up and vouched for Leba, then drove him back to get his car.

"I don't understand this," Leba said.

On a night when attendance was barely half of capacity -- the announced crowd was 29,841 -- there was more concern and confusion than chaos on the first night of "controlled zone parking," which is being implemented this season, along with a $5 price increase, to $15 per car.

The Dodgers said that 15% of the $100,000-per-game increase in revenue is being used to pay for 100 more attendants, decked out in bright, lime-green shirts, who direct people where to park.

"I didn't see any difference, just more people out there in green shirts and $5 more to park," said Juan Escobar, who lives in Los Angeles. "That was the plan? I could do that."

Those interviewed said that parking took about the same amount of time as it used to, though many said there was added stress from being micromanaged by attendants lining up cars. "It's like a theme park," Escobar said. "It doesn't feel right."

It didn't to Leba, who was accustomed to getting a spot behind the left-field pavilion to make it easier on him and his wife.

"I would take her to her seat, then bring the wheelchair back. How can I do that from out there?" Leba said as his wife repeatedly told him, "Let's just go home."

The only handicapped spots available are located within preferred parking areas. Dodgers spokeswoman Camille Johnston said motorists can gain access to the spaces by paying the general admission parking rate, then showing their handicap placards to get into the preferred lot.

Tabby Raya of Fullerton said that was not the message she received. "I have a bad back, which I have a handicap placard for, and the Dodgers said I'd have to buy the season-ticket parking, $20 per game, to park in those lots," Raya said.

There were also pregame doubts about the postgame exodus from Lot 1.

The plan was designed so everyone, except season-ticket holders, would exit from the same gate at which they entered, with cars being directed by attendants to park in specific spaces. Previously, drivers could circle the stadium to find a lot and space of their choice regardless of which of the four gates they had entered.

More than a few fans were anxious about the exit strategy, saying that while fans tend to trickle into games, they leave en masse.

Those fears were partially realized in the general admission lots, where, with no attendants directing drivers out of the stadium, a bottleneck of cars jammed the single exit at Lot 1.

chris.foster@latimes.com

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