The LA City Attorney Tuesday filed criminal charges against the owners of two prestigious car repair shops, accusing them of illegally parking customers Porsches, Ferraris, and Maseratis in street spots meant for residents.
The matter had been with the City Attorney since early 2019 but got stalled in bureaucratic red tape, until the NBC4 I-Team aired a report Monday night.
"Had you not reached out to me, I would not personally have been aware of this issue, and I'm glad you did," City Attorney Mike Feuer told the I-Team's Joel Grover The charges were filed by Feuer's office, less than 24 hours after the I-Team report, which exposed how Silverlake residents had been complaining to city officials for over 20 years about the parking problem and gotten no help.
"I've emailed and called everyone in city government. Nothing ever changes, nothing ever happens," says Brian Behrend, a Silverlake resident who says the streets around his house are often clogged with Porsches and Ferraris, leaving residents no place to park.
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"I sometimes have to park three or four blocks away from my home to find parking because all of those expensive cars," Behrend told the NBC4 I-Team.
Behrend began complaining to city officials in 2002 that Hi Tech Automotive was illegally hogging street spots with its customers' fancy cars.
So last month Behrend decided to email I-Team Investigative reporter Joel Grover saying "Please help our neighborhood. The city can't or won't help us."
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After receiving Behrend's email, the I-Team decided to watch his Silver Lake neighborhood, starting before dawn. Under the cover of darkness, we spotted workers from Hi Tech Automotive--a shop that repairs mainly high end cars--starting to park customers' fancy vehicles in street spots meant for residents, and monopolizing all the meters on some blocks, denying the customers of other businesses places to park.
For example, the I-Team noticed the entire block of 4000 Fountain Avenue was taken up by Ferraris, and the 4100 block was clogged Porsches, belonging to Hi Tech customers. The residential streets nearby were filled with Range Rovers, vintage Mercedes, and Maseratis from Hi Tech's lot.
That's illegal under LA's Municipal Code 12.26 which says "no vehicle…shall be parked… outside of the approved enclosure" on which a car repair lot is located. In simple terms, that means car repair garages can not park customers' cars on the streets.
The I-Team's undercover cameras were also watching during street cleaning, and noticed that parking enforcement officers ticketed every car parked in a street cleaning zone, except for those fancy cars parked by Hi Tech Automotive. Officers drove right by the Ferraris and Porsches without issuing citations.
"It does look very suspicious that the Hi Tech cars don't get tickets during cleaning, but residents' cars do," says Brian Behrend.
The I-Team obtained the city's own records, which show the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) has ordered Hi Tech Automotive to "discontinue parking vehicles outside the lot," or it would face fines in the thousands of dollars. LADBS issued these formal "Orders to Comply" to Hi Tech in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2014, and 2017, always threatening fines.
But LADBS couldn't provide the I-Team with any evidence of fines it's issued to Hi Tech, and the auto repair shop has continued to park its cars in spots meant for residents.
"I know that it's illegal," Hi Tech's owner Koko Bakchajian told the I-Team. "I've apologized to them [the residents] a million times and we are working on it," Bakchajian said.
Hi Tech's owner says he's looking for a nearby storage lot to put his customers' cars while waiting to work on them. But Bakchajian told the City Attorney's office that same thing in 2019.
The City Attorney's office investigated, held a hearing about Hi Tech in 2019, but then never took action against the repair lot.
"It just seems like it's a classic city hall pass the buck. They all say, 'It's not our problem, it's another department's problem,'" Behrend said.
When the I-Team questioned City Attorney Mike Feuer why his office hadn't taken action against Hi Tech Automotive, Feuer responded, "In this case, this has taken way too long."
So Tuesday, less than a day after the I-Team aired its report, Feuer filed a 13 count criminal misdemeanor complaint against the owners of Hi Tech, and the co-owned Sublime Silverlake, which services Porsches for "illegally parking and storing their vehicles" on city streets, and for "failure to comply with the City's orders to discontinue the illegal parking and storage of vehicles."
[[see full criminal complaint here]]. (ATTACHED)
"We will ensure that this matter is resolved successfully," Feuer said.
When the I-Team contacted Hi Tech Automotive for a comment about the criminal charges, we got a voicemail recording that they were closed.
As for LA Parking Enforcement not ticketing Hi Tech's cars on street cleaning days, the LA Department of Transportation told NBC4 that was wrong.
"We appreciate you bringing that to my attention," LA DOT spokesman Colin Sweeney told the I-Team.
After an investigation prompted by the I-Team's report, LADOT's Sweeney said the agency discovered "an error in the map" it uses to determine where street cleaning was taking place…. and the department has already initiated enforcement based on this finding."
The problem of car repair shops hogging street parking from residents happens in neighborhoods across the LA area, according to City Attorney Mike Feuer, who promised a citywide crackdown on the problem in the coming months.
"I think all of us in city government need to do better on this particular issue," Feuer told NBC4.