DanvilleSanRamon.com

Cover Story - November 2, 2007

Wheeling 'n' dealing

Danville Boulevard - city street or used car lot?

by Geoff Gillette

Parking in Danville has improved since the town has opened and enlarged public lots. But there is one place where parking is still at a premium every single weekend. Each Saturday and Sunday, the stretch of Danville Boulevard from Railroad Avenue north to Del Amigo is lined with cars.

Why, you may ask? Is something taking place at San Ramon Valley High School across the street or downtown? A track and field event? A crafts show?

It's none of the above. Over the past several years, this section of Danville Boulevard has become the site of an impromptu used car lot. On the weekends you can see nearly a hundred autos and trucks on the street. All different makes and models of automobiles from a 2006 Hummer H3 to a 1998 Honda.

For Sale signs adorn windshields and side windows. Some sellers have fliers under the wiper blades giving all the particulars of their auto.

People will stroll along on the sidewalk or in the bike lane, looking at the vehicles, reading up on the stats, or just kicking the tires. It's an oddity of sorts to see something like this at a time when nearly everyone has access to the Internet and can look for what they need on eBay or Craigslist. And yet, the scene continues to thrive and even grow as each weekend, throughout the day, some cars leave and others find spaces along the street.

The used car strip has no formal advertising. Much of its publicity is through word of mouth, or people just notice it while driving through town.

Still, word has spread and not just in the San Ramon Valley.

John Fischer of San Francisco had his car out on the Danville street in early October.

"My in-laws live in Danville and they sold their car recently by the high school, so I put it out there for a couple of days," he said.

Fischer said his in-laws had great responses with their car and were able to sell it fairly quickly.

In addition to keeping his car on Danville Boulevard over the weekend, Fischer took out an ad on Craigslist, the popular online service that allows goods and services to be sold. While his in-laws had great luck with their on-the-street offering, Fischer didn't, and he ended up selling his car to a fellow city dweller. He said he thinks that to sell a car in Danville you need to live nearby.

"You need to get it out there every weekend," he said. 'To really make it work you have to live close by so you can come and show the car if someone is interested. My in-laws live right by there so they could do that."

Auto buyer Tom Pana of San Jose agrees the seller has to be close at hand. Pana was biking in the area with friends and stopped for lunch in the downtown. While riding north toward Alamo he passed several used cars on Danville Boulevard until a 2003 silver Camry caught his attention.

"I pulled over to look at it, and it was in great shape," he recalled. "I used my friend's cell phone to call the owner and arranged a test drive for the next day. A week later after another test drive and some negotiation, I took it home."

While some find the cars on public exhibit to be a useful way to purchase a used vehicle without wading through showrooms and fending off salesmen, others find the display a nuisance.

"Have you ever tried to go to the high school on the weekend?" asked Danville resident Kerry Smith. "It's ridiculous."

Smith said she has spoken with the police about having the cars out there and was told the display was legal.

"They told me that for the cars to park in that area was less intrusive," she said.

Over the years, complaints from people like Smith have been filed with both the Police Department and the town government. Danville Parking Officer Mike Ahern said that while there is nothing to prevent people from parking their cars there as a means of selling them, the town is able to control how it is done.

"We were getting complaints of people leaving cars there for days and days at a time. That went away once we put up signs that said, 'No Parking between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.,'" he explained.

Ahern said if a car stays overnight or if it is there during the week while school is in session, it will be ticketed. After 72 hours, it will be towed away.

"You can legally leave a car on the street for 72 hours before we'd tow it," he added. "After 72 hours, it's considered 'abandoned' under the law."

Police Chief Chris Wenzel said the situation has been going on for some time and there is nothing illegal in what the car sellers are doing.

"Under the right of freedom of speech people are allowed to place For Sale signs on their cars and park their vehicles legally as prescribed, based on the signage and property ownership," Wenzel said. "It actually makes it easier in some ways, as this stops people from parking vehicles all over town with the For Sale signs."

All of those cars parked along a busy throughway with a bike lane running alongside does give officials some concern for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

"The only real issue we see is traffic safety where people will slow down in their cars to look at one of the sale cars," Wenzel said. "Or they'll pull over in the bike lanes to take a look instead of just going down the street a little ways and parking."

Town officials also have looked at the issue but have not found reason to take action.

Town Manager Joe Calabrigo said they, like the police, have received complaints over the years, from homeowners groups and residents of the area who feel the sale of the cars goes against the character of their neighborhood.

"The town has regulated the location by posting signs that prohibit parking vehicles overnight," said Calabrigo. "This ensures that the parking there is available for high school students to use come Monday."

He added that the town police force works diligently to enforce other vehicle code violations which might occur in that area such as double-parking or blocking traffic by stopping to look at a sale vehicle.

Calabrigo said that is the limit of what the town can do because there is nothing illegal in parking a vehicle in a legal space. The City of Los Angeles was sued for trying to restrict vehicles with For Sale signs that were parked in legal spots, and the city lost. The courts have upheld that cities cannot enforce parking restrictions on that basis.

Nearby residents may complain - but those who walk and ride along Danville Boulevard to look at the cars don't see any problem.

"When I was riding that way, all of the people were on the sidewalk," said bicyclist Pana. "There were bikes in the bike lanes and cars in the road. There didn't seem to be any conflict. When I saw the car I was interested in, my friends and I got off the road and parked. No problems at all."

"I wasn't really even looking for a car," Pana added. "So it was just luck that I happened to be there at that time."

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