By Edwin Folven, 12/06/2012
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday to regulate valet parking companies, capping a three-year effort by members of the Hollywood business community and Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, 13th District.
The new ordinance will require all valet companies to obtain a permit from the city’s Board of Police Commissioners, and will require all valet drivers to go through a background check to ensure they are not convicted felons, and are licensed and insured. It will also prohibit valet drivers from parking vehicles on city streets, and valet companies must submit plans to the city on exactly where the cars will be parked. The proposal for the ordinance was authored by Garcetti.
“I’ve been fighting for this for years, and I’m glad to see us reaching the finish line,” Garcetti said. “Businesses, customers and residents all agree that it’s unacceptable for the second-largest city in America to be without a valet ordinance. I want to make sure valets are licensed, insured and background checked, that valet parking isn’t happening in front of people’s homes, and that the right lane isn’t blocked with cars, as is often the case in Hollywood or along 3rd Street.”
The new ordinance was also hailed by leaders of the business community, including Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance and the Hollywood Business Improvement District.
“We’ve been trying to get this implemented since 2009,” Morrison said. “The city absolutely needs this. Anyone handing their keys over to someone is really handing their keys over to a stranger. There needs to be regulations in place to ensure that these companies have permits and are following the rules.”
Morrison said the issue became a problem a few years ago along Cahuenga Boulevard, between Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. Different businesses would contract with different valet companies, resulting in too many operating along a two-block stretch, she said. Additionally, valet companies without contracts “just plop down their kiosk,” creating more problems.
“There was no system in place. They would block lanes of traffic, they would block the sidewalk and there would be valets picking cars up or dropping them off in the middle of the street,” Morrison said. “There would be fistfights among the valets, and lot of customer confusion about who to give their cars to. It caused a lot of anger and frustration.”
Leron Gubler, president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, agreed that new regulations were needed.
“It was like the Wild West out there with no regulation of valets. It makes it impossible to provide any order with the nightlife out there,” Gubler said. “There were no regulations in place to prevent bandit valet companies from coming in.”
Deputy city attorney Brian Sottile said the valet ordinance calls for the police department to issue misdemeanor citations when violations are identified, and companies could face fines of up to $1,000 per violation. The companies would also be subject to administrative penalties, such as suspension or revocation of permits. Businesses that contract with valets could also face fines and penalties if they fail to submit a plan for specifically where the vehicles would be parked, or if they are found to be in violation of that plan. Sottile added that the new law would increase the city’s ability to collect taxes from valet companies, because the tax rate would be based on the specific parking plans submitted to the city. The city could more easily identify which valet companies owe taxes, which would help in recouping the money, he said.
Ben Rondhame, owner of Global Parking Services, a valet company serving Hollywood, West Hollywood and Santa Monica, said he favors more regulations to prevent rogue companies from stealing business or causing conflicts. He added, however, that it may be difficult for some companies to stay in business, particularly companies that serve a small number of businesses. Rondhame said he charges $8 to $10 per car, and he anticipated that the cost could go up if fewer valet companies meet the new requirements.
“More regulations will be good because there will be less confusion,” he said. “More regulation with more fees will not be good.”
Rondhame said he has a business permit and his employees are licensed and insured. He rents a parking lot just south of Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards where the vehicles are parked.
“Small companies like me are going to die because we can’t afford all the new fees,” he said. “I want my company to be legit and to do business the right way, but we will have to wait and see what is going to happen.”
The timing for establishing the valet ordinance has not yet been established, according to Garcetti’s deputy, Yusef Robb. It may take approximately six months to establish the network necessary for issuing permits and enforcing the regulations. The fees valet companies will be charged have also not been established.
City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said he supported the new law, and added that it will also help alleviate issues along the 3rd Street Shopping District, where valets would routinely park vehicles on side streets.
“This will hopefully resolve all of these issues,” Koretz said. “Most importantly, we are going to know where every one of those valet companies are parking their cars. For those that are double- or triple-selling their spaces, they will have to stop doing that and will have to get real spaces. I am very excited about this as a 3rd Street area resident myself.”
Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, also supported the new law.
“It’s very important to have a balance,” LaBonge said. “A lot of these valet companies just come out at night with a sign and start doing business. They need to be regulated.”
For some, the new law can’t be established soon enough, such as Cary Brazeman, a member of the Mid-City West Community Council and a candidate for city controller.
“My neighborhood includes West 3rd street and Beverly-Fairfax. We have seen over the year abusive practices by some operators. Including price gauging and the illegal parking of cars in some neighborhoods,” Brazeman said. “The new ordinance will go a long way in getting a grip on those problems.”