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L.A. Rolls Out Campaign for Hybrids

Times Staff Writers

When Councilman Eric Garcetti appeared at a Hollywood hot dog shop Friday to announce a proposal to exempt hybrid vehicles from city parking meters, he may have gotten a bit ahead of himself.

As the press conference came to a close, his fiancee’s 2004 Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle sat nearby in front of an expired parking meter. A bike-riding parking enforcement officer saw it and began to write a ticket.

An aide to Mayor James K. Hahn, the proposal’s co-author, quickly explained the new proposal to an officer. If approved by the City Council, the aide explained, in September hybrid vehicle owners would no longer have to plunk their pocket change in city meters.

The officer had a ready response: It’s not September yet.

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The aide plunked a quarter in the meter, and the officer backed down.

So began the city’s campaign to promote the environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles, which use a mixture of gas and electricity.

If the measure passes, hybrids would join electric and fuel cell vehicles in the elite class of meter-exempt vehicles.

In parts of L.A., where a good parking space is as prized as a three-picture deal, citizens were generally supportive of the measure, which Garcetti brought to the City Council on Friday.

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Motorists told stories of seemingly endless searches for parking and screaming matches over contested spots.

Many spoke admirably about the proposal’s environmental benefits. But when asked whether the perks would wean them from gas guzzlers, most said the few extra coins were unlikely to sway them.

“That’s lovely for the people that drive rubber-band cars,” said Ruth Orbuch, a 74-year-old from Bel-Air, who drove to Larchmont in her Jaguar to celebrate a friend’s birthday. “I don’t think they’re safe or nearly heavy enough.”

A block away, Jessika Wood, 29, said everyone at the class she attended that morning spoke favorably about the mayor’s new proposal. “There are too many meters and too many rules,” she said as she dropped coins into a meter. “You have to read an essay before you can park.”

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But when Wood, who drives an older Ford Explorer, was asked if she would consider buying a hybrid, she shook her head. A recent car accident convinced her that reliability and safety were her priorities, things she didn’t associate with hybrids.

In Larchmont Village, where a quarter will buy a car 30 minutes rent, lunchers sat in lines six cars deep waiting for a spot to open up.

“The hard part is finding a spot, not paying the meter,” said Sue Otto, co-owner of Chevalier’s Books.

It gets so bad that some customers call from their cars, asking employees to come to the street with their orders, Otto said.

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In downtown Los Angeles, where that same quarter will only buy a car 10 minutes, drivers going into stores for change is a too-common occurrence for some shop owners.

“I don’t give change,” said Steve Peters, manager of Caffe Milano on 6th Street. “If I did I’d have to bring in 2,000 or 3,000 quarters a week.”

Luis Hidalgo goes downtown twice a week to pick up clothes and gold jewelry for his shop in Anaheim, and said he’d buy a hybrid if he could afford one. He also said he admired the government’s care for the environment. In El Salvador, where he’s from originally, he said “the government doesn’t worry about things like pollution and contamination. I wish the government cared about the environment like L.A.”

Paula Puryear plans to trade in her year-old Lexus sedan and she’s scouting the Lexus hybrid sport utility vehicle due out in early 2005, she said.

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“Almost everyone I know is thinking of getting one,” Puryear said. “The proposal is a fabulous idea. It makes you feel like you made the right choice, and you get a little reward.”

No small part of the positive reaction to the plan came from city drivers’ mix of anger and awe at Los Angeles’ seemingly ubiquitous parking enforcement officers.

“They’re always around,” said Aaron Campbell, manager of Larchmont Hardware.

“They’re the most efficient government workers we have,” said David Ehrman, who plans to buy a hybrid when the lease on his BMW is up next year.

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A few questioned the fairness of the program, which favors those who can afford the pricier alternatives to gas.

“If you can’t afford a hybrid car, it’s unfair, isn’t it?” said Rebecca Butler, 56, after parking her silver 1969 Volkswagen bug.


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