Two-thirds of valet companies ignoring city regulations

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City officials want to boost how much in parking taxes they collect from valet operators. | Sun-Times file photo

Valet parkers are still thumbing their noses at city regulation, despite countless efforts over the years to crack the whip and rein in chronic abuses, a top mayoral aide said Tuesday.

Maria Guerra Lapacek, commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said an eye-popping two-thirds of the 388 valet operators investigated by the city recently were not in compliance with off-street parking mandates and other city regulations.

The investigation triggered roughly $300,000 in fines, 2,500 administrative notices of violation and 73 “removal orders to cease and desist” valet operations, the commissioner said.

On the hot seat at City Council budget hearings, Guerra Lapacek said it may be time to tighten the noose on valet operators once again.

“For example, the number of off-street parking requirements. Maybe that could get increased to stop the flow of vehicles on the street. Or changing some of the structure of the licensing so that we could have better control,” Guerra Lapacek said.

“One of the problems we see in the valet world is similar to what we see in the tobacco world. The flipping. The constant [turnover]. Somebody goes out of business. Someone new comes into business. … That’s a harder thing for us to stop. But we’ve been working with Finance, who has had a long history of trying to get a handle on that to see if we could make improvements in the ordinance.”

Chicago aldermen say they want to crack down to make sure valet parking companies are following the rules. | File photo

Chicago aldermen say they want to crack down to make sure valet parking companies are following the rules. | File photo

For years, valet companies serving Chicago restaurants, bars and hotels were required to provide enough off-street parking spaces to serve just 10 percent of the establishment’s capacity.

Seven years ago, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) tried to raise it to 25 percent, only to lower the bar 15 percent, under pressure from Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and his colleagues in the Illinois Restaurant Association.

At the time, there were rampant complaints about valet parking companies that damage vehicles, monopolize metered spaces and park cars illegally, saddling unsuspecting motorists with tickets.

The 2009 crackdown further required valet companies to obtain $1 million worth of insurance for both liability and property damage.

Fines for allowing employees to park cars without a valid license were increased dramatically — from a $100 minimum and $500 ceiling to at least $500 and as much as $1,000.

Two years ago, Reilly threw the book at rogue companies that engage in valet parking without any city license, either to avoid the fee or because they don’t have the off-street parking to get a license.

Under that crackdown, unlicensed valet parkers face a fine of at least $3,000, as much as $5,000 and/or up to six months in jail.

Last year, Reilly was back on the warpath again. He persuaded his City Council colleagues to prohibit valet parking services from stashing cars in tow zones.

“I have a special place in my heart for crappy valet parking companies,” he said then.

Cigarette sale crackdown

Also at Tuesday’s budget hearing, African-American aldermen renewed their perennial complaints about the black-market sale of loose cigarettes and the crime that comes with it.

They were not appeased when Guerra Lapacek reported that she had a “very good handle” on the problem with six full-time investigators who have confiscated over 60,000 packs of unstamped cigarettes this year alone. Eight of those incidents involving “felony quantities of 250 packs or more,” she said.

“I see officers out trying to clear the corners. However, it continues to be a huge problem in the community in which I serve,” said West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr. “They’re outside of gas stations. They’re outside of corner stores and CTA stops. It has become a huge business. I would almost venture to say as big of an epidemic in my community as drug sales are at times.”

Scott demanded new and more creative solutions to “move them off of these corners and move them from in front of these businesses. It becomes an issue of almost public safety with individuals not wanting to go into these stores because you’ve got young men and women standing outside impeding their progress to get inside.”

Aldermen not amused by license abuses

Aldermen from across the city also demanded more inspectors at night and on weekends to crack down on rampant night-life abuses that include applying for a public place of amusement (PPA) license to get around liquor license moratoriums.

“That PPA license then effectively turns the restaurant into a nightclub or tavern which is a really big loophole around these moratorium zones we established to protect our constituents quality of life,” Reilly said, complaining that 47 inspectors are nowhere near enough to oversee 55,000 licensed Chicago businesses.

“I can’t remember the last time I went to Maggiano’s to see Justin Timberlake or Gibson’s to see Calvin Harris or Rosebud for a $400 bottle of vodka. Those are restaurants. And all of those things that I just described you can do with a restaurant license so long as you have a PPA. That’s a serious concern for me. The liquor lawyers are absolutely taking advantage of this.”

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