Vons’ parking leaves some customers, merchants flustered


By Pat Sherman

As the seasonal influx of tourists approaches, public parking in The Village is becoming even scarcer.

Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in the area around the Vons grocery store on Girard Avenue, where adjacent merchants say the grocer’s parking management has led to a scarcity of spaces and created headaches for their customers.

A little more than a year ago, Vons’ management began placing orange cones in 28 spaces along a wall at the east end of its main parking lot, which abuts a row of retail spaces and a Thai restaurant. Signs have since been posted to further designate the spaces as reserved for Vons’ employees.

Though Vons owns a portion of the lot and rents the rest for its use, neighboring merchants say reserving such prime spaces for Vons employees, who could park in the lot in back of the store, amounts to unfriendly business practices — particularly for older La Jollans who cannot walk as far.

Vons store management referred questions from the

La Jolla Light

to its corporate office. Though Vons’ public affairs manager Carlos Illingworth said Vons employees “are directed to park in the back lot and the front lot is only to be used for overflow employee parking,” during several visits to the store last week all of the front employee spaces were occupied, while the back lot was less than half full. The rear spaces, while occupied by several cars with placards identifying them as Vons’ employees, is designated via signs as customer parking.

“What should happen and what does happen are unfortunately not always in alignment,” Illingworth responded, via e-mail. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We will work to remedy it.”

A little more than a year ago, Vons also hired Los Angeles-based Modern Parking, Inc. to monitor its lot and assure that it is only being used by Vons’ customers, and that vehicles do not remain there beyond the posted two-hour parking limit.

Rose Lapuz, owner of Thai Pan restaurant, said her customers have complained about heavy-handed enforcement by Modern Parking attendants.

“A lot of my customers say they’ve been shopping at Vons all their life and they (Vons) won’t even let them park there (long enough) to come pick up their food-to-go,” Lapuz said. “They’re not happy for the way Vons treated them.”

Lapuz, who recently put her restaurant up for sale, said she believes the parking enforcement has hurt her business to some extent.

Mario Sandoval, who owns a jewelry store on Fay Avenue, said many people who park in the lot for 10 or 15 minutes to visit an adjacent retailer have been doing their shopping at the Vons store for a decade or more. Even though they may not be shopping at Vons that day, Sandoval said he feels it is unfriendly of Vons to hassle customers when they may only be visiting a nearby business for 10 to 15 minutes.

“Even if they come and they go across the street to get something, they do their grocery shopping at Vons,” Sandoval said. “Sometimes (my clients) want to come see me and the person that’s guarding the parking lot gives them a hard time because they’re parking for 10 minutes.”

Representatives from Modern Parking, Inc. did not respond to several requests for comment on its parking management protocol.

Though Sandoval believes that people should not be able to park in the Vons lot all day, he said he thinks, “Vons should a little bit more flexible.”

People who exceed the two-hour limit are given a warning the first time, then towed on their second offense. Illingworth said the decision of whether or not to tow a “repeat offender” is up to the discretion of a store manager. One store manager at the Girard Avenue Vons said that in his 10 months of employment there he has only authorized two vehicle tows.

Several merchants also expressed concern about Modern Parking attendants writing down the license plate numbers of the people parked in the Vons lot in a spiral notebook, and with how that information is stored and who may have access to it.

“It’s the only way to correctly identify cars which may be violating the posted parking policy,” Illingworth responded. “Information is maintained in accordance with our company’s privacy policy which obligates uniquely identifying information to be kept confidential.

“We also have security cameras in our lot and stores that record who comes and goes, as do many businesses and government agencies,” Illingworth wrote. “How is this concern different than that would be?”

Most employees of adjacent businesses park behind the retail row, on the street or have paid parking in a garage below the Ferrari dealership at the corner of Girard and Pearl Street.

Heather Kenney, co-owner of La Jolla Photo and Imaging, said she has one space behind her store adjacent to Vons. Her husband and one part-time employee park on the street and walk to the store. Though she said they are fine with this arrangement, she also said she has received “quite a bit” of complaints from customers about the grocer “commandeering all of the spots in front of my building” and Modern Parking’s “gung-ho enforcement” style, which includes stopping and questioning anyone they see parking and not walking into Vons.

When apprised of the situation by customers, Kenney said, “I tell them, unfortunately, the truth — the Vons shopping center has never been our parking. Basically it’s street parking, which there is plenty of, most of the time.”

Several merchants said that, generally, Vons has been increasingly flexible with those who say they are only parking in the lot for a maximum 15 minutes to patronize an adjacent business.

Kenney recalled when people would park in the Vons lot all day and head off to the beach or to work at a nearby business. She said tighter and clearer enforcement has at least made more spaces available for both Vons clients and those dashing into her store for digital imaging services.

An employee with Ocean Cleaners, who asked that her name not be used, said that after Vons moved its employee parking to the wall next to her business, she noticed a marked decline in customers, though she said they have since returned and that lot attendees are becoming less confrontational and now allowing customers to park in the Vons lot to drop off their clothes.