Beverly Hills adds more free parking time

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Beverly Hills wants to appeal to the masses.

With competition increasing from retailers on Melrose Avenue and Robertson Boulevard -- not to mention shopping complexes such as Westfield Century City, The Grove and South Coast Plaza -- the Golden Triangle is doing more to reach Southern Californians inclined to skip tourist-laden streets and pricey parking garages.

The city’s latest bid: expanding free parking at city garages from one to two hours, a change that went into effect Friday.

“Beverly Hills doesn’t sit on its laurels and suddenly wake up and realize our business has been going somewhere else,” Mayor Jimmy Delshad said Friday. “Not on my watch.”

Delshad considers Southern California to be an untapped market for Beverly Hills merchants. California residents (excluding those who live in Beverly Hills) contributed $400 million to the city’s retail sales coffers in fiscal year 2007, compared with $500 million spent by Beverly Hills residents and $600 million by out-of-staters, according to the city.

“The competition for the Southern Californian shopper is very, very intense,” said Dan Walsh, who leads the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, adding that the goal of the parking switch was “to remove any impediment that would be in their way.”

“You need to draw from all the communities, whether that’s the tourists or people who want to drive 20 or 30 miles for the Beverly Hills experience or the local shoppers who have tremendous choices.”

To lure more Southern Californians to Rodeo Drive, to Barneys and to Saks, the city is subsidizing the new parking policy at a cost of about $1.7 million paid out of its annual surplus.

“We’re talking about people spending a lot of money and they get aggravated about having to spend an extra few dollars to park,” said City Councilman Frank Fenton.

Fenton, a senior vice president at Salomon Smith Barney Inc., championed the parking plan at the urging of local businesses.

Strolling on Beverly Drive on Friday, Jeff Freeman, 56, and Cindy Forman, 45, of Santa Monica said they planned to use their extra time to spend more money at Beverly Hills retailers.

“We now have time to eat and shop,” said Forman, a lawyer, as they walked to lunch at Il Fornaio. “Two hours works better.”

“It’s like Santa Monica,” said Freeman, a film editor.

Monica Franco, 39, of Glendale also appreciated the extra hour.

“We can spend the extra money on buying stuff instead of parking,” Franco said as she exited a parking structure on her way to the shops.

Glenn Rosten, 60, a retired real estate investor in Beverly Hills, took the bus to shop at Cartier on Rodeo Drive on Friday. “You hate to get ripped off for parking, especially if you’re going to spend the money you generally spend in Beverly Hills,” said Rosten after buying new sunglasses for about $1,000.

“The parking wouldn’t break me,” he said. “It’s just the principle. If I’m going to spend $1,000 for sunglasses, I shouldn’t have to pay for parking.”

Some Beverly Hills retailers didn’t seem concerned about parking fees, saying they can survive on sales to tourists and upscale clients, for whom the Beverly Hills ambience trumps any financial inconvenience.

“The Beverly Center has a totally different clientele,” said Brittany Luetzow, who manages the Bebe clothing store on Rodeo Drive. “It’s crazy over there.”

But many of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce’s 800 members want to reach more middle-class shoppers and pushed the parking change.

Some store managers also cheered the change, tired of fielding weekly complaints from local customers riled by parking prices -- $1.50 for each additional half-hour, up to $13.50 for the day.

“I think that it’s great they changed it,” said Ingrid Solares, general manager of Williams- Sonoma on Beverly Drive. “I’m tired of people complaining.”

“We were concerned,” said Philippe Vanier, co-owner of William Ernest Brown, a stationery store sandwiched between the Century City and Beverly Center complexes.

Vanier said he saw traffic drop by nearly a quarter last summer after the two complexes were renovated.

“And they both offer free parking,” Vanier said. “We felt if we do not go back to the two hours free, we would have lost business.”