Buddy, can you spare a quarter and a parking space? *

Masa of Echo Park has attracted a loyal clientele with a menu that includes everything from deep dish pizza to salads to crepes. But perhaps one of the most requested items is not on the menu: quarters. A recent hike in parking meter rates and an increase in meter hours finds many more patrons scrounging for quarters to feed the meters, said Rhonda Reynolds, one of the restaurant’s owners. Some people have even offered to buy quarters with credit cards. “Everyday, people need quarters,” said Reynolds, who now asks her bank for three times as many coins as she used to get. Equally frustrating for merchants and patrons are the large numbers of failed meters; Reynolds recently reported that seven out of the nine meters on Lemoyne Street near her restaurant were flashing the dreaded “FAIL” warning, scaring off potential customers. “It impacts your business if people can’t park,” she said. If only failed meters were Echo Park’s only parking problem.

It was only about a decade ago that the city converted a municipal parking lot south of Sunset Boulevard to a recreation center because officials determined there was a surplus of parking in Echo Park’s main business district. Not any more. New bars, nightclubs, restaurants and boutiques have attracted more newcomers – and their cars- to the neighborhood, triggering a parking crunch during the evening. Meanwhile, expanded religious services at Angelus Temple down the block at Echo Park Lake leave few empty spaces on Sunday morning. During the summer, the convergence of Dodger games, evening church services and popular musical acts at The Echo floods the neighborhood with cars and trucks that quickly fill up any available parking spot. Angelus Temple is building a new garage on Glendale Boulevard but it will be restricted to church goers. In response to the parking shortage, residents on at least one street off Sunset Boulevard have been able to get “resident only” parking restrictions, making it even tougher for businesses.

“We can’t continue to pit residents against businesses,” Marcel Porras, a legislative deputy for Councilman Eric Garcetti, said at a recent Echo Park Chamber of Commerce meeting. But Porras conceded that any surplus parking funds that might have been used to expand parking facilities in the neighborhood have been diverted to fill the city’s budget gap. So far, there has also been no serious effort to adopt other parking solutions, such as public valets being considered in Eagle Rock.

All those broken parking meters on Sunset Boulevard, meanwhile, are not helping matters. After Reynolds at Masa complained about the nine broken meters on her block, the city’s Parking Meter Division sent out a technician to take a look at what was wrong. It turns out that most of the meters on the street – and a great many in the nearby public parking lot – had failed because they were filling up with coins faster than the city workers could empty them. The city could try to install meters with bigger coin boxes or send out employees more frequently to empty the machines, an engineer with the Meter Division told Reynolds. But it’s not clear if the city has the money to do either.

* Update: Should motorists park in a space when the meter is broken or is flashing a “FAIL” warning? It’s not recommended, said Bruce Gillman, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation. He said that many older meters reset themselves automatically, leaving no evidence that they had failed. “It will show no one had put any money in, and then we will issue a ticket,” he said.

Related stories items:
* Eagle Rock takes valet parking to a new level. The Eastsider
* City Parking meter fact sheet.
*Report a broken meter online or call the Meter Hot Line at (877) 215-3958.

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