Willie's Burgers has attracted hungry crowds to Broadway near 16th Street for nearly three decades. But owner William Taylor says he has seen the downtown Sacramento neighborhood change dramatically over the years, including the addition of some new businesses next door — and a lot less parking for his customers.
During construction of a nearby retail center, parking for his restaurant was cut off, he says. So, customers parked elsewhere, including at a neighboring lot for a bank. But business owners, protective of their own parking spaces, posted signs warning drivers: If you're not a customer and you park here, you’ll get towed.
But Taylor says people are being misled. “Just because they have a sign there, doesn't mean you have to believe it,” he said.
Taylor insists he has uncovered a 60-year-old law that may call into question what most people assume about private parking lots. Specifically, he cites a California vehicle code that says anyone can park in a free lot regardless of whether you're a customer.
And to spread the word, he's posted a large sign outside his restaurant to let customers know about it.
“The bottom line is that you can park anywhere for one hour, and people ought to know that, and they ought to take advantage of it,” Taylor claimed.
The one hour part of his statement is key — but, essentially, he's right.
Vehicle Code 22953 explains that, if an individual parks their car in a free lot and is towed within 60 minutes, the person who ordered the tow job is civilly liable for twice the amount of the towing and storage fees.
The person parking would have to obey other laws, including not blocking fire hydrants or unlawfully using a disabled placard. But otherwise, they’re within the law.
The law was put into place to protect drivers whose cars have broken down, so they don't find themselves in an unsafe situation, according to the vehicle code.
But is Taylor’s message in line with the law's original intent?
“There are so many abusive laws and coercive laws that, if you find one that actually can come to your advantage, you ought to be able to use it,” Taylor said. “I mean, you know, you have to take the good with the bad."
Several state and local agencies we contacted declined to discuss the situation outside Taylor’s restaurant, arguing that the code is not under their jurisdiction.
The city of Sacramento says it does not issue parking tickets at non-city-owned lots.