DOWNEY – Several businesses near Downey High School report repeatedly having traffic, safety, and behavioral issues immediately following the end of the school day.
The affected businesses sit in the lots directly across from the high school on Firestone Boulevard.
According to several of the local store managers and supervisors, the issues begin around 30 to 45 minutes before school lets out when parents of students begin occupying many of the parking spaces within the business’ parking lot; some for anywhere from half an hour to an hour.
Once students are released, many cross Firestone to meet their pickups, creating a traffic jam for many of the stores’ customers and incoming or departing staff. Downey’s normal school hours end at 2:50 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and at 2:20 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“Obviously there’s many concerns that we have regarding the parking lot issue,” said Fernando Sonco, General Manager of the Petco located at 8556 Firestone Blvd. “Not only is it a customer issue, it’s also an employee issue because now when we have staff that wants to come in, now they don’t have any parking spots.”
Sonco said that some staff members have been stuck searching for parking for 20 to 30 minutes at times, and that this is a daily issue Monday through Friday during the school year. Customers are also inhibited during the time period immediately after school release.
“Many customers come in the front door and give me that face shrug like ‘wow this is incredible what’s happening’” said Sonco. “We have to always be apologetic and let them know that unfortunately noncustomers are parking in the parking lot waiting for their kids to be picked up.”
Sonco has taken initiative at some times when the traffic was particularly cumbersome for customers, writing down the license plate numbers of repeat offenders and calling for a tow truck on occasion. The police have yet to be called to this point.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf shares the same lot with Petco. According to Shift Supervisor Cristopher Cadena, the after school situation brings both positives and negatives to business.
“We have customers complain about it,” said Cadena. “Not only [the parking], they all come in here waiting to be picked up.”
Cadena said that both the traffic and the after-school crowd have been reflected in many of the coffee shop’s Yelp reviews.
One such review noted that “...3pm kids from across the high school overrun the place. They are mostly waiting for rides or hang out.” Another reviewer said “Do not come here Monday through Friday between 2:30-4pm because this place is swarmed with HS kids from across the street. The parents who are waiting to pick them up take every parking spot available and the kids take up every seat inside Coffee Bean without ordering a thing.”
Despite the Yelp reviews, Cadena said that the time after school does account for a major part of sales during the day.
“From the time they get out, say 3 o’clock to after 4 o’clock, they probably count for about 25% of the days sales so far,” said Cadena.
However, not all of DHS’s neighboring businesses share in Coffee Bean’s profit spikes; some have had negative experiences instead.
According to Ana Blanco, Assistant Manager at Boston Market, a few Vikings have caused other disturbances in addition to traffic issues.
“Other issues we have with the kids alone, not all of them, but a lot of them vandalize,” said Blanco.
Blanco explained that some students will tag Boston Market’s outside tables and in the restrooms, forcing staff to sometimes block off the restrooms from students to avoid further incident. According to her, some students even go as far as being mouthy with staff and fighting.
Petco has also had issues with students loitering, stealing, and even some property damage to storefront windows. Cadena said that some Coffee Bean customers and staff have said their cars have been damaged during the after-school hours as well.
The problems seem to be centralized to the lots on Firestone directly across from DHS. Managers from other nearby businesses such as Chipotle, Hometown Buffet, and immediate neighbors Mimi’s, Habit Burger Grill, and Chick-fil-A said they did not have any problems with students or after-school parking.
When asked about the issue, the office of Downey Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Garcia said that this was the first that they had heard of the issue.
“Student safety is our highest priority, and of course we want to be good neighbors and want to be responsive to the input...," Garcia said in a statement. "There are specific drop off and pick up zones at all of our schools that we encourage parents to go to; at Downey High School in particular there are six. We try to urge the parents to use those and we will obviously bring it up to the campus as well and try to get some things changed and make it a little but more apparent to parents so traffic isn’t an issue at the Ralphs and Petco area.”
Several other store managers in the area were unable or declined to comment on record. DHS Principal Tom Houts did not respond to a phone call asking for comment.