Lawsuit bans car buffs from shopping center

By Sue Doyle L.A. Daily News

Photos: David Crane L.A. Daily News

It was 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday when Tom Bellows pulled his treasured 1979 yellow MGB into the parking lot of a Woodland Hills shopping center and prepared to hang out with other classic car aficionados, as they had for years.

But instead of being greeted by longtime friends, he said, he was surrounded by four security guards hired by the owners of El Camino Shopping Center, who ordered him off the premises.

"They told me to get the blankety-blank-blank out," said Bellows, 71, a family therapist from Northridge. "They said I couldn't park my car there because it was a classic."

It was a startling way to learn of a lawsuit filed Oct. 19 on behalf of Regency Centers, the Delaware-based owner of El Camino Shopping Center. The lawsuit targets the classic car lovers and the Village Coffee Roaster, a tenant that had spearheaded the informal Sunday gatherings.

Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges trespassing and nuisance, and serves as a restraining order against the motorists, listed anonymously as John Does 1-500.

It claims that the owners of the Ferraris, Porsches, Mustangs and other classic cars hog too many parking spots at the 135,883 square-foot, Vons-anchored shopping center off Mulholland Drive near the Ventura Freeway.

Regency Centers would not comment, citing the pending litigation, said spokeswoman Bonnie Hayflick.

Ernie Park, an attorney representing Regency Centers, also would not comment. Vons, with its corporate headquarters based in Arcadia, did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit has forced the classic car lovers to abandon the Woodland Hills strip mall and instead gather for coffee and socializing on Sunday mornings at a shopping center in the 19000 block of Plummer Street in Northridge.

To be fair, several classic car enthusiasts admit, the Woodland Hills mall's large parking lot was occasionally near or at capacity with these tricked-out vehicles until about 10:30 a.m. on the last Sunday of the month. Some even parked illegally in the red zones.

But most of the gatherings drew about 80 vehicles. And after schmoozing with their buddies, most of the drivers were gone by 9:30 a.m., said Dustin Troyan, the Village Coffee Roaster manager and self-proclaimed "car guy" who was served with the lawsuit.

Troyan said he had specifically advertised to the classic car lover demographic several years ago and encouraged them to come to the shopping center on Sundays for an early morning cup of coffee. Word soon spread among the car-collecting community that El Camino was the place to be on Sunday mornings.

But three years ago, mall officials called Troyan and ordered him to stop promoting the car club gatherings, he said. The advertisements stopped, but the car lovers still pulled in. Aside from buying coffee, they also bought bagels, got haircuts and shopped at other open stores in the strip mall, Troyan said.

But Troyan said much of that Sunday morning bustle has stopped.

Officials from the strip mall have posted a sign outside the coffee shop doors warning of "no car show parking" and allowing for one-hour-only parking.

"We used to have regular customers here on Sunday and they're gone," Troyan said. "If you pull up in your Ferrari, you're told to get out. They will intimidate the hell out of you. But if you pull up in a minivan, you can stay."

Erica Borders, a hair stylist in the center at Head West Salon, has lost at least 35 customers from the vintage car crowd, because they won't return to the mall with the ongoing lawsuit.

"I lost out," she said. "I had started coming in at 8 a.m. on Sundays to build a clientele with them."

Though several classic car drivers have said they understand the shopping center's frustrations over parking, they are shocked that it was not communicated earlier, and that they learned of the problem through thuggish private security guards hired to keep them out.

Standing in the center of the parking lot, the security guards and a large dog have approached the classic car drivers as they drive in. One has operated as the process server, and with a stack of copies of the lawsuit and attempts to serve the drivers.

O'Linn Executive Security Services, the Agoura-based business hired by Regency Centers, would not comment on the allegations for this story.

Marlon Mitchell, 50, of Chatsworth, had copies of the lawsuit thrown at him on a recent Sunday by the private security guards who followed him into McDonald's at 6:15 a.m. and told him to leave and then followed him into a drug store.

At the time, Mitchell was unaware of the lawsuit. The Sunday morning car show had been a tradition for him since 2003. Though he was at the center for the car show, he also had a haircut appointment there.

But the security guards had told Mitchell to leave or his car would get towed. Then they videotaped the license plate of his 1966 Mustang.

"We're all between 35 and 80 years old. We're not smashing beer bottles and doing burn-outs," said Mitchell, who never got his hair cut that day and refuses to return to the center. "That's the crazy thing."

James Ellis Arden, the North Hollywood-based attorney representing Village Coffee Roasters, said the private security guards have since toned down their routine. He said that the shopping center should have towed any classic cars parked illegally in the lot.

Meanwhile, he filed a cross complaint against Regency Centers for discrimination.

"They are discriminating against people they don't like by the looks of the cars they drive," Arden said. "They are also discriminating against their own tenants."

Classic car aficionados are known to gather around town in groups, showing off their beloved vehicles at Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Toluca Lake and during the summer at Fields Market in West Hills.

Up to 300 people packed into the parking lot at Fresh Market in West Hills on Friday nights for $7.99 barbecue and tri-tip sandwiches and to socialize over the open hoods of up to 150 vintage cars, said Bill Rinck, co-owner of the grocery store.

But with the end of daylight saving time, the car lovers have dwindled away. Rinck plans to host the event again next summer.

"I had that Calabasas crew call in October and ask if I'd be OK with them showing up," he said. "I said, `Show up.' But no one has. But I have the permits."

[Source: L.A. Daily News]