L.A. installs its first back-in-only parking spots. Can they solve Ventura Blvd. shortage?

A car straddling part of the lines of an angled parking spot on a street
Craig Edelson and wife Sylvie head back to their vehicle as a motorist grapples with an angled parking space on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

New angled back-in-only parking spots on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills have their foes and their champions. They also have a learning curve, as a recent visit showed.

Late last week, several customers who frequent the primarily mom-and-pop shops on the stretch of Ventura were struggling to adapt. Some stopped traffic as they tried to reverse in. Others circled the block multiple times before attempting to park.

Glenn Hayden, brow furrowed, was driving east along the thoroughfare en route to Woodland Hills’ Business Machines Center to drop off a typewriter for repair.

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The 85-year-old attorney idled for 10 seconds in traffic outside the shop as his eyes bounced between his rearview mirror and the slots ahead of him. Finally, he pulled forward across four vacant parking spaces with his 2007 Lexus ES 350 before turning 90 degrees and reversing into a spot.

“I’m just happy there were no other cars around,” he said.

Alongside the freshly painted angled lines are parking signs informing drivers that they must back into these spots.

The switch to reverse diagonal parking — the first such type of parking in the city of Los Angeles, according to Councilmember Bob Blumenfield — created several new spots for customers.

It’s only one corner of Los Angeles. But in a city where parking is both a competitive sport and a political flashpoint, even this small change is generating debate. It’s long been a hot-button subject, from the spread of restrictive permits and confusing, mock-worthy signage to rising citation prices and apron and parkway parking battles.

For the record:

2:41 p.m. Sept. 8, 2023A previous version of this article misspelled Tara Barker’s surname as Barkley.

One block away from Business Machines Center, salon owner Tara Barker, 33, said she was happy about the new spaces. Now she could park across the street from her shop, Mane Idol.

That Friday, there were six clients and five employees in her 3,000-square-foot studio, which provides a back lot with five spots.

“This is a great idea because it opens up valuable spots for everyone,” the Woodland Hills native said. “The problem is the reversing, I guess; it makes sense for safety, but we’ve had our share of clients who complained.”

The issue is a divisive one, with opinions split among customers, store owners and community advocates since the installation of the back-in angled spots on Aug. 14 along a half-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard — Woodlands Hills’ main corridor.

A man stands in the street between newly painted parking space lines in front of a retail shop.
Steve Dozier, manager at Wheel World in Woodland Hills, stands on the edge of a new parking space that he says makes it tough for cars to enter his Ventura Boulevard bike shop.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Some business owners are excited to welcome more parking, while others say clients have expressed frustration and threatened to take their business elsewhere.

The new diagonal spots are on the north side of Ventura Boulevard between Ponce and Fallbrook avenues. On the south side, the new spaces are between Royer Avenue and Rigoletto Street and Fallbrook and Ponce. Parking meters removed for the renovation are being reinstalled.

Bookstore owner David Kaye says he has witnessed a steady stream of follies these last few weeks while peering through the brown venetian blinds at the front of his shop.

“There was one girl who looked so confused and she circled the block something like six times before just quitting and driving away,” Kaye said.

He says he’s fortunate because most of his clients call in advance for an appointment and know to park in his store’s back lot.

Kaye said he was aware of the changes along Ventura Boulevard since he’s “active” in city politics but believed many other store owners were not.

“For most,” he said, “the change came as a surprise.”

Half a dozen business owners and managers along Ventura Boulevard told The Times they were blindsided by the change.

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“The biggest problem is that people are uninformed and feel like they should have received notice,” Barker said. “I remember receiving something in the mail about repaving but nothing about parking changes.”

The move toward reverse diagonal parking is not recent, however.

Scott Silverstein, a former longtime Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council member, said the seeds of the idea were planted in 2015.

He drove through Lancaster’s 0.6-mile-long “The BLVD” district, which is lined with shops, museums, restaurants, a bowling alley, and diagonal parking, although in this case nonreverse.

“It was beautiful, and there was tons of parking,” Silverstein said. “It was in many ways what many of us had wanted for Ventura Boulevard, not just the parking, but the revitalization of the area.”

Silverstein met with longtime Woodland Hills resident Dennis DiBiase, then-vice president of the neighborhood council and an architect. The two devised a plan that called for reverse diagonal parking and refurbishment of the area.

This type of parking, according to both men, allows for safer bicycle lanes since drivers aren’t opening their doors into cyclists’ path. Drivers also aren’t stepping out of their cars into traffic, as is the case with straight parking, while pulling into traffic is “much easier,” DiBiase said.

The duo presented their idea at the April 2015 neighborhood council meeting, with DiBiase introducing the topic in a print newsletter mailed to businesses and published digitally that July.

DiBiase and Silverstein presented their proposal to Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who represents Woodland Hills and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

A sign says "Back-in parking only."
A sign on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills alerts drivers to the new parking rules.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Initially, Blumenfield balked at the plan before organizing a community gathering in November 2016.

Within two months, the City Council member, the neighborhood council and other groups became involved in workshops, including three in 2017. A Phase I report was released in 2018 that called for increasing the 97 parallel parking spots on Ventura Boulevard to 121 spots that were primarily reverse angle.

Blumenfield secured $1.5 million via a City Council vote for the first phase of the project in April 2021, five years into a process of meetings and planning. The parking change is the first move in a two-part revitalization project known as the Reimagine Ventura Boulevard plan.

The goal is “to create a small town Main Street for Woodland Hills” along Ventura Boulevard, mirroring similar projects completed by neighboring communities Sherman Oaks and Tarzana, according to Blumenfield. Along with the parking, trees will be planted and landscaping added, with enhanced crosswalks that feature curb extensions, flashing lights and new painted lines at major intersections.

Blumenfield said he didn’t understand the criticism over the lack of community input.

The councilman said he conducted “door-to-door” business outreach in 2019 on the upcoming changes to solicit suggestions, organized a community bike ride that year to spread the word on the plan, and in 2021 and 2022 hosted a series of virtual town halls. He also sent out letters to business owners over three consecutive years, with the last hitting mailboxes in July.

“There’s been a very robust engagement process for this project,” Blumenfield said, “probably more so than most projects receive.”

Steve Dozier, who’s managed Woodland Hills’ Wheel World for more than 30 years, said he was still waiting to be advised.

“Nobody has come into this store and spoken to me about changes,” said Dozier, 67. “Because if they had, I would have told them how this has created a huge headache.”

Dozier said the elimination of a center turn lane along Ventura Boulevard had cut off his and his employees’ ability to head west on the thoroughfare.

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“Now we have to exit right,” Dozier said, “and do this big U-turn a quarter-mile down the road for no reason.”

Dozier and employee Noah Barbush, 21, said they suspected business had slowed because of the change.

“It’s a lot more difficult to turn into our parking lot now without a turning lane,” Barbush said, “and because the [parking] spots are now really close to the entrance.”

Ray Wargnier, owner of Business Machines Center, said that, although there had always been issues with parking along Ventura Boulevard, he believed the last few weeks had included more close calls than normal.

“I’ve seen accidents with [the previous] parking before,” said Wargnier, whose business has been on Ventura Boulevard for seven years. “What’s new is you’re seeing people [driving across] double yellow lines to try to get to businesses on the other side, which is really dangerous.”

Wargnier, who received a letter from Blumenfield in July, said he had yet to lose business but was not short on customer complaints.

“I have some who pull in headfirst because they don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. “Others have said this is making their drives more difficult.”

Silverstein said he was “disappointed” to hear about the parking struggles.

“If you try it a couple of times, it will become natural,” he said. “I don’t want to be mean, but if you can’t back a car between a couple lines, perhaps you shouldn’t be driving.”

DiBiase says the neighborhood council has a wait-and-see attitude, although the preference would be to keep the reverse diagonal parking.

“The lines are made of paint and not concrete, and we’re going to try this for a while and see if it works,” DiBaise said. “If it doesn’t work, we can always go back, but I really do believe this will work.”