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By Michael Fagans / The Californian
By The Bakersfield Californian
Q: On a recent trip downtown, I pulled into a parking space on 19th Street that happened to be in front of a new restaurant. I was advised by a restaurant employee that I could not park there unless I was patronizing the restaurant.
I absolutely understand these orders for private parking lots, but I don't believe this could be legal on a public street. Can you tell me if this order is lawful?
-- Shannon Agnew De La Cruz
A: Boy, did this stir up a hornet's nest.
The restaurant is The Mark, on 19th Street between Chester and Eye streets. And no, the restaurant nor any other business can restrict parking on a public street, said John Ussery, a civil engineer in the Bakersfield Public Works Department.
In fact, Ussery said this past Wednesday, the city has been trying to get The Mark to stop dictating where people can park on the public street since its opening last year. He also raised concerns about Mark signs on the sidewalk advertising valet service that could be impeding pedestrian traffic.
"I've met with them personally twice," Ussery said. "But they're not listening to us, so it's time to take it up a step."
The next day, Thursday, a city code enforcement officer reiterated the rules to people who work at The Mark, and it sounded like they took it to heart.
Ussery said only the city can regulate parking on public streets. Businesses can restrict parking on private property.
The city does allow the establishment of loading zones on public streets, as it did for The Padre Hotel at 18th and H streets nearby, Ussery said. The city did create a loading zone for The Mark on H Street at the restaurant's request, but it hasn't been using it, he said.
(By the way, Ussery said those loading zones can be used by the general public, not just attendants for The Mark and The Padre).
Ro Fernandez, executive chef at The Mark, told The Californian Friday that the restaurant will heed the city's reminder and not put the offending signs out on the sidewalk anymore, even if other area business people are doing it. Many businesses violate the rule against unpermitted portable signs, he said.
(In fact, the code enforcement officer who visited The Mark Thursday also told at least one neighboring business person to bring a sign inside because it violated city rules against unpermitted portable signs).
As for restricting parking on 19th Street, Fernandez said Mark employees haven't told non-patrons they can't park there. When told that multiple people have said otherwise, Fernandez said The Mark contracts with a third party to provide valet service and maybe those people said something they shouldn't have.
Fernandez said The Mark will start using the loading zone on H Street. It hasn't been, he said, because vagrants hang out on that corner and they might scare customers away from the restaurant.
Downtown is nicer and safer than a lot of people believe, Fernandez said.
Fernandez said The Mark is a good taxpayer just trying to provide a good customer experience. He complained that the restaurant is also having to grapple with lack of city enforcement of parking rules such as time limits. Sometimes people living in the area park at or near the restaurant overnight, he said.
Other business people on the street said they, too, are frustrated with the lack of parking enforcement and that they've asked the Bakersfield Police Department to be more vigilant -- to little avail lately.
BPD spokeswoman Michaela Beard said the department does have people enforcing parking rules throughout the city, not just downtown.
She encouraged people who are unhappy with the level of enforcement to contact the department at 327-7111 or email@example.com and be as specific as possible about where and when parking rules are being violated and how they're being violated.
She said the department will respond.
"It's incumbent upon the community to partner with us," Beard said.
Ussery, at public works, said it sounded to him like the folks at The Mark were going to follow the rules going forward. Maybe the city has now connected with the right people there, he said.
But code enforcement officers will periodically check to make sure The Mark follows the sign rules and they know whom at the police department to call if it appears someone is telling people where they can and cannot park on the public street.
Ask The Californian appears on Mondays. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.