The SLO Police Department has been issuing tickets, like Oprah gives away cars, to unsuspecting drivers who’ve turned left from Madonna Road into the Longs Drug store parking lot—without the recipients jumping up and down in jubilation, of course.
Turning left into the lot is a maneuver SLOcals have relied on for years, but since September of last year, it’s been illegal. Three signs on either side of the road indicate so, yet drivers continue to make the turn.
The SLO PD is determined to enforce the new-ish law, according to Traffic Sergeant Jeff Booth, and Longs employee Laurel Melvey noticed that ticketing was especially aggressive during the weekend of June 19. She faced the brunt of disgruntled, just-been-ticketed customers, storming their way through her checkout line.
“I had at least 20 customers [in one day] complaining that they got a ticket. Every single one was angry about it. No one knows about [the law].” According to Melvey, officers were waiting in the lot for people to park before pulling up behind the cars and writing tickets.
The fact that Los Osos Valley Road was being repaved that day made matters worse. Every other entrance to the parking lot was blocked by traffic cones, making the only legal entry a right turn from Madonna Road. According to Melvey, one woman followed a line of cars, left blinkers flashing, into the lot because she saw a police officer and assumed he was there to assist with the congested traffic. Booth confirmed that 15 people in a row pulled into the lot illegally and were cited.
One pair of peeved patrons took it upon themselves to inform incoming drivers of the officers’ intentions, making signs with poster-board and markers bought from Longs that said, “DON’T TURN LEFT!” Although the protestors faced opposition from the officers, said Melvey, the plan worked and “the cops packed-up shop and left.”
Police Chief Deborah Linden said that the recent spate of ticketing was part of a “Focused Enforcement Program,” intended to draw attention to the problem and “make an impact that lasts longer than the actual enforcement.” She said that the program was not timed to coincide with the roadwork on Los Osos Valley Road, nor is there any “great conspiracy involved.”
Sergeant Booth said that the intersection is notoriously dangerous. “We’ve had a lot of collisions out here,” he noted at the scene of a two-car accident on June 22, which was not caused by an illegal left turn into the parking lot. “Engineering has changed the flow of traffic to make it a safer environment for everybody.”
According to Chief Linden and Sergeant Booth, the SLO PD has been patrolling the intersection since January and will continue to do so. “I realize it’s no fun getting a ticket,” said Booth. “I’ve been on the receiving end, too, but there’s a reason for it … that’s not a lawful place to turn, or a safe place to turn.” Getting that message across to the woman seen yelling, shaking her fists, and snapping photos of the ticket-issuing officers might not be easy.