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A dozen cameras were set up on the lot’s smooth black asphalt. The white lines delineating the parking spaces were freshly painted and bright.

A few minutes before 11:30 a.m., Councilmember Todd Gloria drove up in his silver Volkswagen Passat and slipped into one of them with ease.

He was about to inaugurate a brand new 36-space parking lot in the heart of parking-starved Hillcrest. This was a really big deal, everyone was saying.

He walked past the gathered assemblage and took his place behind a wooden podium. He faced a crowd of television reporters whose heavy presence seemed to belie rumors about the demise of American journalism.

“To some, the opening of a parking lot is a rather ho-hum event,” Gloria, beaming, told the group. “But if you know parking in Hillcrest, you know that this is a very, very important day. I cannot overstate the excitement that has been generated by this action.”

There was a ribbon to be cut, and oversized scissors.

Tablecloths draping tables full of pizza for all. And plenty of praise to lavish on the family that has kept the lot fenced off for 25 years.

The lot is owned by the Pernicano family. For almost three decades, it and Pernicano’s Restaurant on University and Sixth Avenues have sat abandoned. The restaurant is a remnant of an earlier era in San Diego’s culinary history. Its owner, George Pernicano, has resisted all inducements to develop the property even as Hillcrest has grown up around it. Nostalgia, the family’s spokesman said.

But his recalcitrance has embittered nearby business owners who have longed for something, anything, to attract customers there.

Finally, after 25 years, the family agreed to turn their empty lot into a paid parking lot. No development yet, just a parking lot.

That, the councilman thought, was enough to roll out the wooden podium and celebrate.

“The family’s gesture of making these 36 parking spaces available to the public will bring back life to this block,” Gloria said. “To the Pernicano family, I extend my thanks and offer the gratitude of the entire uptown community.”

Stanley Paul Cook, the family’s spokesman, was up next.

“Despite all the conjecture, they’re just wonderful people,” he said. Cook has had his eyes on the Pernicano property for 12 years. He wants the family to let him develop it, and four months ago approached them about turning the vacant lot into a parking lot.

To his surprise, they said yes. Some business owners are calling it the Miracle on Sixth Avenue.

Patrick Ryan was there too. He’s from Sunset Parking, which repaved the lot and installed a shiny, solar-powered pay station at the entrance.

“We understand that the supposedly ho-hum world of parking,” he looked toward Gloria, as if to disagree with the suggestion that his business was drab, “is very important to these communities. We know that very well, and we have a lot of lots in the area.”

Two more speakers from Hillcrest’s business community approached the microphone and profoundly thanked the Pernicanos for their generosity.

Then Gloria made his way to the pay station, where a blue ribbon was waiting for the giant scissors that would slice it in half and make the 36 spaces available to the world.

Actually, the parking lot opened last week.

“But we closed it,” said Katie Keach, a Gloria staffer. “We had to close it so we could re-open it.”

The cameramen and reporters scurried over to face the ribbon. With a hand on each handle, Gloria made a clean snip to applause.

The cameras focused in on the pay station, on its solar panel, on the dangling ribbon. Reporters cornered the councilman and the family spokesman. They asked whether the parking lot was a sign of things to come for the Pernicano lot.

“At some point, I think there’s going to be a redevelopment here,” Cook said.

Then some of the reporters made their way over to the pizza table and mingled as they ate. They slowly trickled away, and the lot emptied, open for business.

An hour later, the 36 spaces were still empty while cars waited for spaces in the pay lot in front of the smoothie shop next door.

It may take a while for locals to realize they can park there. It’s sat empty for 25 years. Tonight’s newscasts may help.

— Text by ADRIAN FLORIDO, Photos by SAM HODGSON

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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