Pinkberry vs. the Parking Trolls

Two Los Angeles obsessions — dieting and parking — have collided with the fury of rutting mule deer in West Hollywood, according to Deborah Netburn of the Los Angeles Times.

Netburn’s story describes what happens when Hyekyung Hwang, a USC business school grad, bought a little storefront on Huntley Drive. She wanted it to be an English tea room with outdoor seating, and ran up against the local property owners’ group. Of course, under the City of West Hollywood’s rules (which are typical for Southern California cities), the neighbors had the right to tell her she couldn’t offer outdoor seating. Then she thought, what about serving something elegant like sherry? Using the liquor license laws, again the neighbors slapped her down.billygoat8.jpg

This was, by the way, a store that previously had been a tattoo parlor and then a medical marijuana outlet. So it’s worth pondering what these homeowners thought would be so destructive of neighborhood values if instead of pot Hwang sold sherry. What’s probably the case is that the medical marijuana dealership and tattoo parlor operated under the regulatory radar, but Hwang needed a permit. In local politics, the need for a permit brings out the trolls under the bridge who demand payment to let you cross.

So what other kind of business could an entreprenuer slide into this slot without incurring the trolls’ wrath? Hwang settled on selling frozen yogurt made with her own recipe. Low-fat, but without artificial flavorings, served with fresh fruit on top. She called it Pinkberry.

By February 2005, one month after it opened, Pinkberry was already turning a profit. The lines started that summer. By that August, it was discovered by Daily Candy. By spring, Los Angeles had fallen hopelessly in love. The little store on Huntley where the tattoo parlor used to be now serves about 1,300 to 1,600 customers a day.

This, of course, was not exactly what the neighbors thought would happen. Hwang said when she first opened the store the neighbors were friendly and welcoming. “They were like, ‘Good luck, Asian lady’ and buy a yogurt,” she said. Now they are plagued with increasing traffic on their once sleepy street of million-dollar bungalows and people double parking “just for a minute” to run in for a quick Pinkberry (though with the long lines, there is no such thing as a quick Pinkberry any more).

For neighbors, there is Pinkberry trash on their lawns, and sometimes Pinkberry customers too. The angriest of the neighbors stand outside at night to remind yogurt lovers that the street is all permit parking, and they will be ticketed if they park illegally. But even that doesn’t always work.

“The bottom line is the customers that go to Pinkberry don’t mind paying $68 for a tub of yogurt,” said Huntley Avenue resident Oliver Wilson, handily adding the price of a parking ticket to the $7.45 cost of a large yogurt. “It’s all Escalades and Mercedes and BMWs. You tell them, ‘Don’t park here,’ and they do. They can afford it.”

I love it!

Permit parking.” If you’re not a well-off homeowner in certain parts of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and other desireable locales near attractive commercial neighborhoods, this concept might be alien to you. Beginning about 20 years ago, such homeowners decided it wasn’t enough that they had a house with a driveway and a garage, and they could walk to stores, parks, pubs and other urban play areas. They wanted to own their street, or at least all its parking spaces. However, they didn’t want to have to pay for this additional valuable property. So someone came up with the brilliant idea of getting the city to give it to them, like a present.

So, if you own a house on Huntley Drive, or on one of the hundreds of streets like it, you get to park in front of your house, but no one else can, even though we’re all taxpayers, and we all paid for the street, the curb, the park strip and so on.

Huntley Drive runs right into busy Santa Monica Boulevard, which was a commercial street long ago. The little bit of Huntley that abuts the boulevard was also zoned for commercial. The homeowners weren’t blindfolded when they purchased their homes. In fact, proximity to Santa Monica Boulevard is, for some, an added attraction. Nonetheless, they feel they are entitled — entitled! — to enjoy the amenities of a suburban neighborhood ambience in which outsiders are unwelcome.

I worked in LA City Hall when the permit parking trend first took hold. I couldn’t believe such a thing was legal. I found it even harder to believe that a city political culture supposedly dedicated to equality thought the better-off residents who could afford to buy homes in pricey neighborhoods were deserving of a gift of public property that all taxpayers had paid to build and continue to pay to maintain.

But these homeowner groups were unbelievable. They depicted daily life in their cozy little neighborhoods as if everyone who parked there threw a week’s worth of garbage on their front lawn and then urinated on it. Every time a new permit parking zone was approved, the debate would be the same. The local councilmember would agree with these organized homeowners that it was a “crisis,” an “emergency,” from which only permit parking would save them.

I figured, if these people want to buy the parking rights in front of their home, fine. The city could use the revenue. Charge them market rates — in fact, have an auction, with the proceeds to fund additional police, more teachers, health clinics, the kinds of things government is supposed to do. But — it wasn’t my department. And I’m sure if I’d pushed this idea in City Hall, I would have been instructed, not so patiently, on who really runs the city. The 10-20 percent of those who vote in municipal elections are disproportionately property owners. So you do what they want, or you find yourself unelected.

All bad policies have a way of blowing up in someone’s face eventually. Well, the brilliant Hyekyung Hwang and her “frozen heroin juice” (as one fan calls it) did the deed. She created a yummy, low-fat product that wealthy people from another part of the Los Angeles area were willing to pay the price of a parking ticket to buy. Why can they afford to pay $68 for a yogurt, night after night? Oh, lots of reasons I suppose, but one of them must be that their homes have also risen in value and low-interest home equity loans can help pay their bills–including their parking tickets. Their homes probably are really nice, lots of amenities, big shady trees — and permit parking to keep the riff-raff away.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hwang, on behalf of the South Bay, I want to welcome you here with open arms whenever you’re ready to franchise your concoction. Permit parking is relatively rare, and there are lots of storefronts on PCH with ample parking out front. And we are just as obsessed about our waistlines down here as anyone in West LA.

11 thoughts on “Pinkberry vs. the Parking Trolls

  1. You should see this place, it’s ridiculous. I started going there two or three times a week when it first opened and now I can’t deal with the headaches involved to get a goddamned cup of frozen yogurt. Not only are the homeowners despicable, you should see that clientele. It’s enough to have me running to the South Bay. I haven’t been in months.

  2. I was at the kiwiberri @ 3rd and la cienega,and at about closing time on Saturday Night I saw the Pinkberry owner along with 2 goons enter kiwiberri smoking a cigar,like some korean mafia goons and told the kiwiberri owners to step outside in a very threatening manner then I and about 10 friends witnessed him threatening the owners of kiwiberri with physical harm, The Pinkberry owner said ” You dont know who your messing with, we know where you live so watch your back” We, along with the owners of kiwiberri by the surprised/confused look on there faces, were all very shocked to witness this to say the least, I had absolutley no idea the frozen yogurt was such a dangerous business, they werent kidding when I heard there was a fued between the two companies , but man am I glad I sell morgages for a living instead… WOW!!!!

  3. From a cursory look thru the web, it’s apparent that Pinkberry has competition, including Fiore and Kiwiberry.

    I won’t erase the comment from “anonymous” but must say it sounds to me like something out of a screenplay. So until I hear confirmation, I am going to assume it is fiction, and continue to post it purely for entertainment value.

  4. When you purchase a home on a Residential street, zoned for Residential use, you HAVE the right for that street to remain Residential, and your property should not to be used as the parking lot, trashcan, and seating for a nearby Commercial business. At the same token, a homeowner on the street who pays property taxes has rights(and “ownership” ) of the street on which your home lies….a residential neighborhood is just that RESIDENTIAL. This Commercial Business with no parking or seating should NOT be on a Residential street…period!

  5. Except this particular neighborhood abuts a major commercial thoroughfare, and from what I can determine, the stores near the corner are there legally. So yes, you purchased a house in a residential area, but it is unlike other residential areas, for better and for worse.

    If the store was on a piece of property zoned for residential, you’d have more of an argument. If Santa Monica Boulevard didn’t exist when the house was purchased and was put in later, you’d have more of an argument. But anyone who bought the house in the neighborhood as presently constituted knew what they were getting themselves into.

    “Ownership of the street?” Actually no. All the taxpayers own that street; unless you want to buy it and make it private, assuming the city would let you.

  6. Historically, the property was the garage for a property on Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood law dictates when you remove parking spaces you have to replenish them which was not done when the garage was converted.

    If I purchased a house today, then I would know “what I got myself into”, but I have lived there long before this blatant disregard for the residents of the community in favor of developers (as is happening in communities all over).

    Ownership of the street was a figurative term. Just like you have the right to call the police if someone is blaring their stereo in front of your house. You have the right, but you don’t own it.

    Until you “walk a mile” in one’s shoes, your opinion is merely your opinion. When Palos Verdes gets overly developed that this happens on your street, you won’t possibly understand.

    End of discussion.

  7. No need to make assumptions about me. This isn’t about individuals but principles. But since your brought it up, where I live now is immediately adjacent to a commercial area, and on a busy street. True, most of PV doesn’t deal with this issue, but at the same time, they live in a place where there is nothing going on except the movies at the mall, and the 7-11 actually closes at 11. For people who enjoy a stroll on a busy urban street, it’s a tradeoff to move to the suburbs.

    I’ve lived all over LA in my lifetime, and I know your situation from both sides. I still think it’s wrong when government, instead of striking a balance, just gives away public property to resolve these kinds of problems.

    If the Pinkberry store is in violation of parking requirements, then why hasn’t WeHo moved against them. That shouldn’t be hard.

    And don’t people in this neighborhood have driveways and garages? This is another aspect of this issue I find infuriating. The streets with permit parking generally have very few cars parked on the street. Permit parking could be argued, maybe, if the idea was to reserve the parking spaces on the street for the street’s residents. But that’s not what happens usually. What these homeowners really want is for taxpayers to fund their desire not to be bothered with the sight of strange cars parking in their neighborhood and strange people walking on the sidewalk. Go live in a gated community if you want that, or move out to Simi Valley. You’re not entitled to the enjoyment of urban amenities strictly on your terms. If you live in the city, hello, you live in the city.

  8. Parking IS an issue for Residents in West Hollywood, that’s why restrictions went up. We use and need the spaces on our street and many times the street is all full with residential use only.

    West Hollywood parking forcement has been good in enforcing the parking restrictions, but you can’t police it 24/7. When you have a business with several thousand (by their own admission) customers a day and no parking and no seating, our street and properties have become their parking lot, sitting area (I love when people sit on my plants) and trash can. Traffic is blocked all around, and people are doing illegal u-turns, going the wrong way etc., which poses a danger for all involved….Residents and Customers alike. Bottom line, is a high volume fast-food business should not be in this location (which bottom line is on a RESIDENTIAL street…you ever see a McDonald’s on a small, narrow residential street with no seating and no parking?), it needs to be on a main thoroughfare to accommodate it’s high volume. Prior businesses in this location were not an issue (by the way, the Marijuana shop was not in the exact same location…it was in the Santa Monica building which was more reasonable) because they were within reason in terms of traffic and customer load as well as parking.

    Many of us don’t have the luxury of picking up and moving for various reasons. Furthermore, we shouldn’t have to. Lastly, not all of these properties have driveways and garages. Some buildings date back to the early 1900’s when this wasn’t an issue, so YES we need our street parking and this isn’t some territorial pet peeve.

    OK, well I tried to engage in a meaningful dialogue with you and educate on some things you were not aware of, but cannot engage in this forever. We agree to disagree, take care.

  9. I am so glad I read this blog, thank you anonymous. I got to say parking sucks in this town and the 24/7 permit parking areas just do not cut it for the rest of us that have to drive to your neighborhood to pay sales tax there. Makes me want to go out and ride a bike to Weho for dose of pinkberry.

    While we are on the topic of bikes, wouldn’t these home owners appreciate it if their streets were designated a bicycle blvd and cars were forced to turn off every two-three blocks to the main blvds. Cyclists could then ride with comfort and ease from downtown to the beach on streets with limited traffic.

  10. Just stopping by–trying to learn about pinkberry (I live up in the SF/Bay Area, about 400 miles away from the nearest pinkberry). Love the drama around the success, and love the drama in your comment thread. I consider myself enlightened.🙂

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