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Santa Monica Says No to New Valet Parking App

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

April 13, 2015 -- Published reports that Santa Monica now has a new app-based service that lets drivers  instantly summon a personal valet to park their cars anywhere they happen to be in the City are premature, City officials say.

Luxe Valet applied for a business license in December, but it was denied. Since then some media outlets have reported the company has expanded into Santa Monica, and Luxe drivers have been spotted “operating in Santa Monica without a valid permit,” said Salvador Valles, chief administrative officer of planning and community development.

“We haven't had a specific complaint that I'm aware of,” Valles said. “But our code officers have seen them and have been monitoring them.”

A new application by Luxe to operate a valet stand in the Coloft  building at 920 Santa Monica Boulevard “on the face of it would meet our requirements,” he said.

“Right now, although it hasn’t been formally issued to them, they likely will be issued a business license and a valet permit to operate,” said Valles. “They would be limited to operating just from there.

“They would not be able to pick up and drop off anywhere in the city, and if they did so they would be in violation of their permit.”

Although having a stationary valet stand “is certainly not a true representation of our business model,”  Luxe is willing to live within the City’s rules, said Hans Yang, the company’s general manager for the Los Angeles area.

“We do feel there’s a huge opportunity in Santa Monica, considering that this is a very tech savvy community and also how challenging parking is,” said Yang.

“For the long-term, what we’re aspiring to do is to make it easier for more people to come to Santa Monica without having to worry about parking.”

Yang said the company is continuing to work with the City and local business groups to “hopefully change the local ordinances accordingly.”

Luxe began in San Francisco and has since expanded into Los Angeles and Chicago, according to its website. The app's algorithm connects users to its network of close-by valets and designated secured lots.

For an average hourly rate of $5, and a maximum charge of $15, a Luxe valet will meet a customer at a designated site, take the keys and park the car in a secure lot. Luxe sends a text message 15 minutes before the anticipated retrieval time to remind customers, according to published reports.

Cars are insured for up to $1 million in case of an accident, Luxe's website says.

The company isn't the sole player in the market. Similar valet apps have been turning up around the country -- New Yorkers can use Park Anywhere -- promising to eliminate parking stress in bustling
urban centers, much like Uber and Lyft promise to make getting a ride quick and convenient.

But drivers in Santa Monica, part of the Westside's “Silicon Beach” hub of computer and engineering firms, won’t be seeing the new technology anytime soon.

“Our current laws don’t really allow for that,” said Valles. “Under our valet permit regulations a valet must have a valet stand, and the routes that they take and where they park their cars must be approved by the Traffic Engineer.”

Stands are there for safety reasons, since they require drivers pull off the road before they can exit their vehicles, he added.

“Luxe Valet’s business model doesn’t provide for valet stands,” Valles said.

Customers could mistakenly double park on streets or park in red zones during a Luxe transaction, blocking the cars behind them, “which could create a serious ripple effect on traffic,” said Valles.

“Our concerns are that they’re picking up people on any corner. Downtown Santa Monica traffic is already congested. If there are a bunch of these companies operating, it could have a real negative impact on traffic.”

Yang said his company trains drivers to address many of the City’s concerns, like double-parking.

“Our valets are trained to steer customers toward safe loading zones,” he said, adding that valets also can pre-arrange with customers safe designated drop-off spots that are close to them.

“Another thing to keep in mind is we don’t cause the congestion that a standard valet stand does,” said Yang. “With a typical restaurant valet, you pull up, you give them the ticket, you pay the money.

“All that stuff doesn’t happen with us. It’s all handled through the app. Our hope is that the transaction becomes so seamless that (traffic congestion) is actually a moot point.”

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