CRANFORD – Although the owner of Cleveland Plaza said the practice of locking the tires of unauthorized vehicles parking in the lot would stop, as of the weekend it continued.
Monday Mayor Tom Hannen expressed frustration that Cleveland Plaza owner Amy Liu had not put an end to “booting” or locking the tires of vehicles whose owners were shopping in establishments along North Union Avenue.
“I understand a property owner has the right to do what they want, I get that, but this company she hired is locking up 10 cars a day for illegal parking and that’s not right,” said the mayor, adding he thought Liu was going to call a halt to the practice.
“I was told she wanted to work with the township towards a resolution to the problem of people parking in the lot who were not shopping at the plaza, but apparently that information was wrong,” Hannen said.
“We want to encourage shoppers to come to the downtown, not drive them away,” the mayor added. “What if someone is at a Boy Scout meeting and they come out to find their car is booted. How can a teenager afford to pay that kind of money?”
“If it was just a ticket, that is one thing, but booting a vehicle and then you have to pay money on the spot to get it unlocked is just not right,” Hannen said, pointing out that if an SUV is booted it is $150 and a truck $200.
The issue first surfaced in early October when residents began complaining to the township that they parked in the lot, went to do some shopping and returned to find their car wheel locked or “booted.”
Several called LocalSource to express outrage at such a practice, explaining they had no idea the lot was off limits to all shoppers.
“I parked my car there for a few minutes to go pick up some takeout and when I came back there was a lock on my front tire,” said a young father of a two-month-old baby who preferred not giving his name.
“I had my son with me, he was screaming and this guy gets out of a van and tells me he can take the boot off if I give him $100,” explained the young father, adding he did not have that kind of cash with him.
“I had to call my wife at work and she had to get someone to come down with the money,” he said, still upset over the entire ordeal.
“How would anyone know that you couldn’t park there? I didn’t see a sign, I was in a hurry. I have parked there countless times before. The guy didn’t care. He told me ‘no money, no car, buddy.’ I had no choice to pay him the money and we don’t have money to throw away like that, but who does?” he added.
Another resident whose car was booted said she has parked at Cleveland Plaza ever since moving to town 15 years ago and nothing like this has ever happened to her before.
“They should warn people that lot is off limits. I didn’t see any sign saying it was private property. I never even heard of such a practice. I was in tears because I had to pick my son up from school. He is only six and I was getting frantic but until I handed over $100, they wouldn’t remove the lock,” said the resident, adding she will not be shopping in downtown Cranford unless she can get a metered parking spot.
LocalSource also heard from other residents who questioned what exactly was going on because they were unable to get answers from the police department.
Hannen explained that as soon as township officials and police heard what was going on, they tried to stop the practice, but because Cleveland Plaza is private property, their hands were tied. Also at issue was the fact many cars were booted at night when parking throughout the downtown is free.
Part of the problem, he said, is people surmise that establishments such as Lidia’s Cuban Kitchen and Fire Me Up studios are part of Cleveland Plaza, but they are not.
Local officials felt Liu should have given fair warning before instituting such a harsh practice as booting vehicles, or at least post for several weeks that parking at the Cleveland Plaza lot is only for patrons and at a certain date booting would be instituted.
It has been reported that Liu, who purchased the property a year ago, said Parking Boot Service of Elizabeth informed businesses adjacent to Cleveland Plaza and nearby churches about the new policy of no parking and that unauthorized vehicles would be booted or locked. The property owner pointed out in other media sources that several notices also were posted in the lot explaining the parking rules. Calls made to Liu were not returned even though multiple attempts were made to contact the Holmdel resident.
The way things stand now, Cleveland Plaza patrons can obtain a parking permit from a store owner that allows them to continue their shopping in the downtown. But this is only for patrons frequenting Cleveland Plaza.
At the Oct. 21 Township Committee workshop meeting the issue of what was going on became clearer, but not enough to deter the mayor from doing something about the situation.
Republican Commissioner Lisa Adubato mentioned that she had met with the property owner and she agreed to suspend the booting pending a meeting with nearby churches and other nearby businesses. Adubato, though, is an attorney who is also a tenant at Cleveland Plaza, which makes the issue a conflict of interest for her to discuss or become involved in as a governing body member.
The commissioner did point out that her landlord merely was reacting to tenants who had been complaining because they were unable to find parking in their own lot. Adubato suggested the governing body not overreact to the situation but that fell on deaf ears.
Hannen asked Township Attorney Dan McCarthy to prepare an ordinance banning booting in the township and it was introduced the following night at the public meeting.
Hannen said he would have preferred the ordinance was stronger but that was not possible.
“We wanted this to come in under the same statute the state has for towing but unfortunately towing is not the same,” the mayor explained, adding that the township is “in a grey area” with this particular issue.
The ordinance will be up for a final reading and public hearing later in the month but Hannen is hoping residents will come to a workshop or public meeting to provide input on the issue.
“It’s always better when residents give us their views on issues or even tell us what they have experienced regarding booting,” the mayor said.