Retailers at the shopping center parking lot at 2020 Market Street that is home to Safeway, Starbucks, and Jamba Juice have hired a private company to issue what appear to be unlawful parking “tickets” on cars parked in the shopping center.
Notices delivered by plainclothes workers monitoring the parking lot come in bright orange envelopes and look very much like SFMTA parking citations. Inside the orange envelope, a “Notice of Unauthorized Parking Charge” in the amount of $63 can be issued to any car whose owner walks off the lot, including customers who have patronized the shopping center’s businesses.
It’s not uncommon for customers to purchase groceries over at Safeway and then continue to shop in the area. In fact, that is exactly what had happened in the case of one person who reported receiving the charge notice.
After purchasing groceries at Safeway and loading them into a car parked in the lot, the individual headed over to Golden Produce to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables, then came back to find the following ticket on the car. In the “reason for charge” section, it is evidenced that the violator was watched as they walked across Church street.
As stated on the ticket:
The vehicle identified below is parked on private property in breach of posted and established rules and use limitations of this property. As a result of said breach, Parking Control Services hereby demands the follow charge.
The property owners have posted signs around the parking lot, some obscured by trees, that let parkers know that any walk-off will be met with the $63 charge.
The private company that is issuing the notices, Parking Control Services, Inc., settled a lawsuit with the Marin County District Attorney in 2007 when consumers complained that the company was placing parking tickets that looked like government-issued citations on cars parked at free public and private parking lots. Parking Control Services did not respond to our inquiries.
According to an opinion filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2011, it is unlawful for “private property owners to issue parking citations imposing monetary sanctions to the owners of vehicles parked on their property.”
Absent express statutory authority, a private property owner may not issue a citation to a vehicle owner, and this remains the law even when the owner issues a preprinted ticket claiming otherwise. Moreover, absent legislative authorization and regulation of the practice, allowing private property owners to issue their own parking citations would circumvent many of the consumer-protection purposes embodied in the Vehicle Code statutes governing towing and parking citations.
In the opinion, the Attorney General acknowledges sensitivity to the losses private property owners might face with “improper parking,” but says the state has “chosen to alleviate that harm by authorizing towing as an alternative to suing the vehicle owners for trespass, and has limited the issuance of citations to government employees and agents.”
We contacted San Francisco City Attorney’s office to find out if the practice is lawful in San Francisco and if the City was aware of what was going on or had granted the parking lot owners the “statutory authority” mentioned in the opinion, but have so far not received a response. Supervisor Scott Wiener did not have anything to add, telling us that this wasn’t an issue he was familiar with.
We reached out to Safeway, the largest merchant in the shopping center, to find out if it was aware of what was going on and knew of the 2007 lawsuit against Parking Control Services. Safeway store manager Dave Papalias referred us to Safeway Media Relations. We heard back from Safeway Director of Public and Government Affairs, Keith Turner, who told Hoodline that Safeway reserves the right to tow people in the parking lot, but did not respond to questions about issuing charges to Safeway customers who walk off the lot. Turner did mention that visitors to the Delancey Christmas Tree lot at the southeast corner of the parking lot “may park in the lot to load their tree for free.”
While the owners of the parking lot are within their rights to tow people who improperly park on their lot without being a customer, it seems that they have gone a step further in their parking enforcement in what might be a violation of California law. However, it’s unclear at this time what sort of recourse might be available to recipients of the parking lot citations.
Barring any action from the City Attorney or a private party against the parking lot’s owners, next time you head to park in the shopping center, whether you are a customer or not, you’d better not step off the lot lest you risk that $63 dollar fine.