Village Center parking problems spark lawsuit
“Parking Nazis.” It’s a phrase often heard when people talk about parking enforcement at the Village Center, the shopping plaza that includes Raley’s and Neighbors Bookstore in the state line area.
Now, a store owner has taken South Lake Tahoe’s city manager and the parking patrol company to court over what he calls harassment of potential customers.
Gary Wyles owns Cowboys & Indians, a shop in Marriott’s Heavenly Village, just across the street from the parking lot. A painted crosswalk on Heavenly Village Way leads from the parking lot straight toward Wyles’ store.
Yet if someone tries to walk out of the parking lot toward Heavenly Village, they could be confronted by a parking patrol officer telling them they’ll receive a citation carrying a $50 fine if they leave the lot, Wyles contends.
Wyles said the Village Center is within its rights to regulate parking, but the “strong-armed, aggressive, threatening behavior” of parking attendants drives away customers not just from his business, but from shops on both sides of the street.
“The image they project – it’s not welcoming,” he said.
Wyles filed a suit in small claims court against South Lake Tahoe City Manager David Jinkens and High Sierra Patrol, the company that enforces parking restrictions at the Village Center.
He won the case, receiving an award of $100 plus $70 in costs, according to court documents. Wyles was seeking $3,000 in his suit.
Now, the city has appealed the ruling. The case is scheduled to be heard by Judge Jerald Lasarow in El Dorado County Superior Court at 2 p.m. Sept. 28.
“We don’t believe there’s any legal basis for any monetary award,” South Lake Tahoe City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo said this week.
The Raley’s-anchored Village Center is privately owned. The city became involved with parking issues at the center because it’s a partner in redevelopment in the area, including Heavenly Village, DiCamillo said. Officials realized that as Heavenly Village got up and running, it was likely to create parking problems for the Village Center across the street.
Drivers who turn onto Heavenly Village Way from Highway 50 first see the Heavenly Village shops on the left, and the Village Center, with its large, surface parking lot on the right. To get to the city’s parking garage, intended for customers of Heavenly Village, a driver must go farther up the road and turn onto a side street.
In addition, skiers and other recreationists are tempted to park at the Village Center lot and leave their cars there for the day.
In response to the parking concerns, the city drew up a parking management agreement with Village Center owner Terry Hackett.
“We took on some of the responsibility for keeping those parking spots (at the Village Center) available for … customers of his tenants,” DiCamillo said.
The city brought in High Sierra Patrol, a Carson City-based company that the city also uses to regulate parking in beach areas. DiCamillo said the city’s agreement with High Sierra Patrol doesn’t spell out how the company is to enforce parking restrictions.
Typically, the patrol company chalks tires to enforce the two-hour parking limit and during busy tourist periods has a more visible presence with a stop sign, pylons and warning signs at the parking lot’s exits.
Wyles said the enforcement is a ploy to get more cars into the city’s parking garage. When the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project, encompassing Heavenly Village, was built, the city realized it needed more parking than it had. It financed and built the $9 million parking garage, which has struggled to break even.
The garage charges $1.50 per half hour for parking, up to $20 a day, although validations are available from the movie theater and many of the shops.
Wyles also contends that High Sierra Patrol does not have the legal authority to issue citations at the Village Center.
“That property owner has every right to restrict that parking, and we have the ability to assist him in the way we’re doing it,” she said.
Patrick Brennan of High Sierra Patrol did not return a call for comment this week. An employee at High Sierra Patrol said Brennan would be out of the office, and she wasn’t sure if he would see an e-mail message she planned to send saying the Tribune was trying to contact him.
South Lake Tahoe City Manager David Jinkens, who is named in Wyles’ lawsuit along with High Sierra Patrol, declined to comment in detail about the case, referring questions to the city attorney.
But he said that he and Wyles generally enjoy a good relationship.
“He’s exercising his rights, and God bless him,” Jinkens said of the lawsuit.
Wyles would like to see the city and business owners on both sides of the street work together to end the “negativity” created by the parking enforcement and promote Heavenly Village and the Village Center as the South Shore’s prime shopping area.
Other merchants at the Village Center question some of High Sierra Patrol’s practices, but are glad that someone is working to keep parking spaces available for their customers.
“There are times when they were pretty Nazi-ish,” said Stacey Barreras, general manager of Sidestreet Boutique at the Village Center. For example, she said store employees whose cars are there everyday and are presumably familiar to parking attendants, are ticketed when their parking permits have fallen out of view.
But Barreras also acknowledged the need for parking enforcement, having witnessed drivers parking in front of the store, taking out their skis, and heading to the slopes.
Neighbors Bookstore owner Michael Stroschein said the availability of parking was one of the main reasons he decided to open his store at the Village Center.
Although parking enforcement can be “a bit Draconian,” Stroschein said parking regulations are well advertised with numerous signs.
Across the street at Heavenly Village, Cache store manager Luciana Mingoti-Azila lamented the parking situation, but said expecting the Village Center to provide parking for her customers was probably unrealistic.
Instead, she said the city should offer free parking in its garage after 5 p.m. That would draw people who want to have a drink or bite to eat after work and then do a little shopping, she said.
“Something like that would be very beneficial,” Mingoti-Azila said.