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Free parking in downtown L.A.? Get it while it lasts

Free parking in downtown L.A.? Get it while it lasts
Downtown Los Angeles employee Andy Agopyan holds his ticket voucher in the Pershing Square garage. Thanks to a class-action lawsuit, parking is free in the Pershing Square underground parking garage for a limited time. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

It may well be the most jealously guarded secret in all of downtown Los Angeles: For the last two months, the city's subterranean Pershing Square parking lot has charged absolutely nothing for parking.

That's right, in a city where downtown real estate prices are skyrocketing -- and new construction has made public parking spaces increasingly scarce -- motorists beneath Pershing Square have been nabbing daily parking spaces for free.

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The parking bonanza is the result of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles.

In 2014, a woman named Ashley Solomon parked at the Pershing Square garage and noticed that the kiosk printed out a receipt with her full credit card number listed, which her attorneys claimed was a violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

The federal law says no business should print more than five digits or an expiration date of a credit or debit card on a receipt.

Solomon sued and the city settled last year, agreeing to pay her $5,000 and her attorneys $93,000. Under the terms of the settlement, the city had to offer $360,000 worth of free parking vouchers to customers because it couldn't track down all those whose credit card information was printed.

To get free parking, customers just have to sign a ledger and get a voucher that allows them to exit without paying the $16 daily rate.

While the city has done little to advertise the free spaces, those drivers who did find out about them have kept mum.

Underneath downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square, parking is free for a limited time.
Underneath downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square, parking is free for a limited time. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

When Efraim Nissim discovered the free parking, he said he faced a quandary: Tell his friends and co-workers? Or keep the parking Shangri-La all to himself?

"I want to be a nice guy, but I'll shoot myself in the foot," Nissim said of his dilemma. In the end he did tell some folks, but not many.

Nissim estimated that he has saved at least $300 over the last two months.

"I could buy myself a suit or something. This is actually crazy that there is free parking downtown," he said.

Pershing Square parking manager Jose Flores said he has seen a lot of smiling faces. The garage has filled up quickly every morning since the voucher deal started in February.

The garage has 1,750 stalls and free spots are usually available until around 10 a.m. or when there are 200 left.

The remaining ones are held for monthly customers who do not get complimentary parking unless they cancel their plan, which can be hard to re-start, Flores said. A monthly pass costs $190.

But the free ride for daily visitors is coming to an end as the voucher fund is almost exhausted -- probably in the next few weeks based on demand, Flores said.

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"Nothing lasts forever," Flores said in his subterranean office.

Nissim was bummed when he heard the news.

"You get used to something for free and you hate to pay for it after, but I guess I'll have to," he said.

Twitter: @bposton

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