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New L.A. parking laws cause unrest in theater district

Increased fees and extended meter hours have some North Hollywood business owners concerned about losing patrons in an area the city spent millions building up.

January 05, 2009|Jennifer Oldham

If you want to catch a weekend show in North Hollywood's thriving theater district, better be prepared to step out of the performance once or twice -- the city of Los Angeles wants you to move your car.

With hundreds of vehicles flooding the square-mile area for events at the district's 22 theaters, not to mention up-and-coming restaurants and art houses, the parking situation is already dire.

There are few public lots. Signs in a nearby Metro station warn "Parking for Transit Patrons Only." And there are so few street spaces to accommodate visitors, actors and production staff that some theater owners already hire valets. Now owners are worried that a recent move by the city to increase meter operating hours will make the situation worse.

The new requirements are part of sweeping parking meter reforms being instituted across L.A. Designed to raise revenue, replace outdated equipment and encourage drivers to use city lots, the changes require motorists in popular entertainment centers to pay $1 an hour until midnight on Friday and Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. And you can't just feed the meter when your time expires; you must move the car to another space.

"How the hell can anybody do a show?" said Linda Fulton, who owns the Avery Schreiber Theatre with her husband, Richard. "The city invested millions of dollars in this area. It's like now the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing."

Currently, meters along bustling Magnolia and Lankershim boulevards, the majority of which offer drivers only an hour of time, require deposits between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. This leaves nights free for theater patrons, who can leisurely attend dinner and a show without worrying about whether they're going to get a ticket that would cost them up to $45.

Recently, city workers started switching the meters to the new hours that extend to midnight. Signs posted on light poles above the meters, however, carry the old hours, and that has led to even more confusion.

Theater owners like Fulton are demanding that the City Council at least convert the meters so patrons can pay for four hours at a time to avoid having to rush out and back in midperformance.

North Hollywood business leaders weren't the only ones taken by surprise by the changes. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the area -- which has more theaters per capita than any city outside New York -- said longer meter hours might harm neighborhoods surrounding commercial centers with limited street parking.

"I'm going to have this revisited," LaBonge said. "Whether it's North Hollywood or Larchmont, this has an impact on the residential streets -- more people will park in residential streets."

City transit officials echoed LaBonge, saying they are open to reconsider the extended meter hours in some areas.

"We're going to work with all stakeholders on addressing any challenges," said Bruce Gillman, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation. "We want to improve the quality of life for individuals, not make life more difficult."

Looking to bridge a budget gap and bring rates in line with private parking structures, the council voted last summer to increase the meter fees and hours. The new hours were expected to almost double the $20 million the city currently collects from its meters.

Workers began changing the city's 40,000 or so meters to reflect the rate and hour increases last fall, but implementation was slowed by unpredictable weather. Rates -- some 25 cents, others 50 cents -- were adjusted to $1 an hour at a minimum, or 25 cents every 15 minutes, and run up to $4 an hour in some more congested areas downtown. Meters will now run until 8 p.m. daily in most areas.

City workers are also installing park-and-pay stations at 6,000 meters that require drivers to note their space number and pay at a nearby electronic kiosk. For now, North Hollywood business owners are concerned that the rate and hour increases will harm a renaissance spurred by millions in public money invested by the Community Redevelopment Agency since 1979. The effort, designed to alleviate blight and revitalize the struggling area, included a focus on creation and promotion of an arts district.

"It's going to hurt us big time in terms of generating foot traffic," said Michael Higby, a member of the Mid-Town North Hollywood Neighborhood Council. "We're literally right next door to Burbank. They have a decent theater community, and they have restaurants and shops, and they have parking, and it's all free."

The revitalization push has prompted billions in new development, including several grocery stores, scores of affordable apartments and new commercial centers. Cranes are currently visible in the area, as construction continues on a new movie theater and an arts school complex that expects to attract thousands of students.

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