My Right to Park My Car in Front of My House

There’s a debate in my town about whether residents should be free to park their vehicles in the street in front of their homes, without threat of getting a parking ticket.

Last weekend, The Orange County Register published a story about this—“Brea to revisit its street sweeping rules.” The author, Lou Ponsi, reported that City Council “passed a resolution in July 2009 and citations have been issued since October.” Ponsi doesn’t quote the resolution. Details, however, can be found at the City of Brea web page. The ruling is summarized by this facsimile of a post card that can be found online:

Presumably, this post card was delivered to all residents, including me, in a timely fashion. I can’t vouch for that, but chances are I did receive one. It probably looked too much like junk mail at the time. I did learn of it, though, when I was ticketed recently for parking one of my cars in front of my house a couple weeks ago.

We had a situation. The transmission in our primary vehicle had blown and the car still cannot be driven. So we had it parked in our driveway while we tried to sort out what to do. Meanwhile, we purchased a second-hand vehicle. So now we had, for the first time ever, three vehicles for a 2-car driveway.

My woes are not your worries, so I won’t digress further.

Now, the explicit rationale for ticketing residents is that their vehicles prevent street sweepers from making a clean sweep on the entire street when they make their weekly rounds. Special emphasis is placed on (1) the adoption of similar programs in cities throughout the nation, and (2) the risk that stiff penalties can be imposed on non-compliant cities (i.e., cities that do not conform to federal mandates).

In other words, “We’re doing this because we have to.”

So it’s interesting to see in the newspaper, now, that City Council is considering a repeal or amendment of the measure. If Ponsi is right, it’s not because “we don’t have to anymore.” In fact, nowhere in the article does Ponsi even mention the original rationale printed on last year’s post card from the city. Why are spotless streets so desirable? He doesn’t say, perhaps because it’s considered obvious. But keep in mind, what’s desirable is relative to the trade-off, and if some counter-measure is more desirable, then there goes that argument.

Ponsi does say that council member Roy Moore (who lives in my neighborhood) “said some residents say they are pleased to see cleaner streets in their neighborhood as a result of the program.”

That’s cute. Which residents? Could it be the ones who don’t require additional parking space because of lifestyle choices? How many of these residents are scamming councilman Moore (also former mayor), and are really just glad that their immediate neighborhood “looks nicer” with fewer cars on the street? How many of them have teenagers with first cars? What about Moore himself? What does he prefer? Does he have adolescents living at home?

I should be clear. I like clean streets. I’m glad we have street sweepers in our neighborhood one day a week. I also like a street free of parked cars in front of my house or the neighbors’. (I don’t like $38 parking tickets, which is why I’ve been more creative in solving our own parking dilemma.)

But I also like clear thinking. And Ponsi’s article, perhaps unwittingly, highlights some of the other sort of thinking. This is assuming that the views recounted are accurate renditions of what their sources actually have said. Let’s give the media the benefit of the doubt, here.

Take Roy Moore. I’ve lived in Brea for 15 years. We’ve had street sweepers for as long as I can remember. So I don’t know why people, including the councilman, are acting like last year’s resolution was something radically new. Mr. Moore, we had cleaner streets before “the program.” Actually, since we’re thinking clearly here, “cleaner” isn’t the right word, because, as far as I can tell, our streets aren’t any cleaner now than they were before last year’s resolution.

Also, there were risks, prior to the past year, of getting ticketed for parking a vehicle in the street. We’ve always had to be alert to the possibility of getting ticketed for overnight parking. Did the new resolution change that? Can we be confident that we won’t be ticketed for overnight parking, or any other parking on residential streets, if we simply make sure our car is out of the way when the sweeper and his ticket-issuing tailgater goes by? The city’s announcement of the 2009 resolution doesn’t say so.

Of course, enforcement is another matter. Maybe the city has been more lenient about enforcing older parking laws still (?) on the books. Again, I wouldn’t know. Enforcement of the new resolution, though, is virtually unexceptional. The street sweeper is consistently trailed by a law enforcement officer who issues tickets for each car in violation, as the sweeper steers around it.

(I wonder, does a law enforcement officer, who encounters one of her own vehicles on the street in front of her own house—perhaps because she “forgot to move it”—ticket herself?)

Next point. The Council is also exploring the possibility that exemptions may be introduced into the ordinance, to assist “residents unable to comply due to hardship.” Who might that be? Well, that’s what they’re looking into.

(If you ask me, the most compelling criterion would be based on a hardship that is government-induced, and by that I mean one that is created by the state and federal governments. Unemployment in California is sky-high. People are losing their homes. Bank repossessions are still for sale. So when people are moved out of their homes, where do they go? Are there more families in the same home now, increasing demands for single-residence parking? I don’t know the facts. I suspect there are. But I doubt that the percentage of Brea households with multiple families is very high. So this criterion shouldn’t apply to very many people. On the other hand, I also recall that I was called by the Census Bureau questioning the number of people I had reported. Why the suspicion? We’re pretty average.)

Onward through the thickets of confusion. The Council has a couple of options, apart from leaving the law in place as is. They can amend or repeal it. Or they can “place a measure on the November ballot letting voters decide whether to continue with mandatory enforcement.” The second of these is kind of a goofy idea. This would be tantamount to preserving the law but, by popular vote, enforcing the non-enforcement of it. Is this really something the Council is considering?

Council members apparently are at odds with each other. John Beauman likes the ballot idea, unless the Council can turn up exemptions.

Roy Moore is sensitive to the “hardship” issue, acknowledging that he’s heard from some residents about this. He’s quoted as saying, “There are people who just don’t have the driveway (space) or have six kids and they are teenagers” (as if having two, three, four, five . . . or even one . . . teenager isn’t a hardship). He doesn’t support abolishing the law, however.

Marty Simonoff, on the otherhand, is concerned that the resolution “was done strictly as a revenue enhancement.” (Has he heard about the alleged federal mandate?) He favors revoking the resolution.

Here Ponsi responds to proper journalistic instincts and reports that “the ticketing program, estimated to bring in $1.4 million in revenue, has made about $200,000 from October through June.” This is according to Public Works Director, Charlie View. In the same paragraph, Ponsi writes, “City officials say the program is effective, and most residents are complying.” I guess I’d like to know what standard of “effectiveness” is used to ground this assessment.

Charlie View is also quoted as saying, “We’re just not seeing a lot of people coming in and saying it is a burden to them.” Ahem. So it follows that . . . what? I wouldn’t be surprised if the incidence of those seeking appeal goes up among readers of this OCR article, now they know that Mr. View will sincerely entertain their appeals. (Says Ponsi, 114 of 328 appealed citations “were dismissed.” What does “dismissed” mean here? That 114 had their citations canceled? Or that only 114 appeals were dismissed, and the rest resulted in canceled citations? I’m confounded.)

We’re not done yet. A Brea couple, the Starkeys, enter the picture. They’ve gotten organized with their resistance to the resolution. They’re collecting signatures for a petition to abolish the “program,” as Ponsi repeatedly calls it. Laurie and Mike Starkey—whom I have never met—have a dedicated website up to fuel their campaign: www.righttopark.com.

I like it when I hear of sober-minded citizen participation at the municipal level. And I support the use of the internet to reach a larger audience. It’s what I do. Reading the online petition makes for some interesting reading, though. A few of the arguments are sensible, if the evidence mentioned is what is claimed. On the other hand, there’s an excess of numbered arguments, when fewer truly distinctive arguments are actually made. This often happens when someone wishes to drive home a point and make things appear as bad as possible. There are several appeals to emotion. And the argument from the size of the carbon footprint stamped into the Brea environment by the use of two vehicles buzzing around the neighborhoods everyday just seems opportunistic to me. (Note: On the actual revenue generated through enforcement of this resolution, there’s a dramatic contrast between what is said in the petition and what is reported in the Ponsi news article.)

So what is the Starkey argument for abolishing the program, according to the The Orange County Register? Ponsi notes that the couple owns three cars and a trailer with two jet skis. This presents a challenge for a family with a two-car garage. But the objection cited by Ponsi does not depend on this fact.

“‘I don’t think the government has the right to tell me where I should put my personal property,’ said Starkey, a professor at Cal Poly Pomona. ‘I can’t even have anyone visit my house on Monday . . . I can’t have children come over and play with my kids.'”

So for Starkey it comes down to rights. And this, I believe, makes for thin ice to ground an argument, which might be worrisome if you’re a university professor.

First, the law doesn’t say where you should put your personal property, including personal vehicles. It prohibits having your vehicle in a certain location. That is, it says where you should not put your personal property, in this case, where you should not put your vehicle.

Second, it’s unlikely that the Starkeys would allow that I have a right to put my property wherever I prefer. Suppose that means parking my SUV in their driveway? Starkey would rightly appeal to the city government to tell me where I should not put my property.

Third, the street in front of my house is city property. That’s both good and bad—mostly good. So the city is entitled.

What do I think about this resolution and its enforcement? Readers of this blog may not be terribly interested, but one reason why I write is to clarify my own thoughts. So here are my own thoughts:

  1. If we’re going to have a resolution on the books, then it should be enforced, consistently.
  2. There should be very strict grounds for exemptions, if any.
  3. If the line that divides exempt and the non-exempt persons is thin and arbitrary, then there should be no exemptions, or else no ordinance.
  4. The city should publish what they know about the actual use of residential streets for parking cars, showing clear comparisons between habits before and after last year’s resolution.
  5. The city should demonstrate how moneys received through the enforcement of this regulation are actually being allocated.
  6. The retention of the law together with the passage of a non-enforcement measure would be incoherent.
  7. If the City Council truly believes it has the authority to rescind the resolution, then they should not have advertised the institution of the resolution as if it was a federal requirement.
  8. This resolution concerns, it would seem, adequate sweeping of the street, so if there is a reasonable and less onerous means of sustaining this standard, then the resolution should be abolished and the alternative means be adopted.

None of this addresses my individual preferences and their grounds when it concerns parking on residential streets.

First, I prefer to be able to park a vehicle in front of my house at my discretion and with no legal consequences, at night or any time, as long as the vehicle is properly registered for active use, and the vehicle is in driveable condition.

Second, I would prefer that the use of residential streets for parking be as minimal as is reasonably possible. This is more difficult. But it does make for a more desirable appearance of our neighborhoods. A plenitude of parked vehicles affects our experience of the space that we each call home. Privacy is already pretty limited by lot sizes. There is a surplus of stress inducers in our society. And our perception of the space around us either contributes to the stress or has a calming effect. This is not widely appreciated. More attention needs to be given to this psychologically critical fact. (The City of Brea has a beautiful and relaxing downtown area that is appreciated by neighboring communities, as well as our own residents. The attention devoted to pleasing architecture is obvious. The architectural aspect, I strongly believe, accounts for much of the appeal of the environment, however subliminal its role may be.)

What does this mean? It means that a delicate, and perhaps impossible, balancing act would be needed to achieve both objectives. Addressing challenges in our common life as proud citizens of a fine city is the task of the City Council. I applaud their efforts. I urge them to order their priorities according to morally and socially compelling principles.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

7 Responses to My Right to Park My Car in Front of My House

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Great idea, Gary. Wish I had this from you before my recent conversation with a city council member seeking re-election.

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  2. Gary Armstrong says:

    Here’s an idea; the city could allow homeowners to opt out of the street sweeping program if they register to keep the gutter/street clean in front of their houses where they park. Three strikes (violations) and you’re out and placed back in the system. The street sweeper trailer officer does the monitoring and the cleanliness standard is the same as what the street sweeper produces. In addition, those who opt out are reimbursed their portion of street sweeper tax money (which parents could use to pay their teens to do the cleaning : ) I doubt this idea would ever be adopted but it was fun trying to think outside the box.

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  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Deb,

    You may know that it was Jeff who alerted me to the OCR article.

    You’re a great example of a family that may well be given some latitude about tickets you were issued. This is what makes it so goofy for a city official to say, “We haven’t had all that many appeals. Residents should be lining up at his door, now, with appeals in hand. I think you should go for it. You have nothing to lose. Neither does the city, since you’re not returning something you paid for and are asking for a reimbursement. I plan to appeal my fine.

    Doug

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  4. Deb Tomes says:

    Doug, We are a family with four cars and three spaces in the driveway. Torrie was cited three times in eight weeks for Tuesday street sweeping violations. ($38.00 each) She innocently vistied a friend in Brea on a Tuesday and got another ticket. Our family solution….we have a post it note on the kitchen counter that reminds her to move her car on Tuesdays. But alas, teens tend to sleep late. I hear all your arguments and agree that the program is mostly driven by Brea’s fiscal deficit. However, I am troubled: (Says Ponsi, 114 of 328 appealed citations “were dismissed.” What does “dismissed” mean here? That 114 had their citations canceled? Or that only 114 appeals were dismissed, and the rest resulted in canceled citations? ) We did not appeal the tickets. If we had would they be dismissed? Would Torrie be reimbursed $152.00? and would she no longer have parking violations on her record?I think you are absolutley right on all points you make about the resolution and its enforcement.

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  5. Doug Geivett says:

    Shawn, congratulations on the new blog. Good luck with it!

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  6. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi, Shawn. Agreed, the primary reason for the program may be to fund the city’s budget. Since the City of Brea has not connected any need for additional funds with the institution of this program, they are stuck with defending the program on the basis of the reasons they have actually given. These may prove to be unsustainable reasons.

    A nearly $2 million budget deficit was projected by the City of Brea for the 2009-2010 fiscal year (click here). Some services were targeted for reduction. No doubt, efforts have also been made to increase revenue sources or more existing sources more productive of revenue.

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  7. Shawn Morris says:

    Sounds to me that the resolution is an opportunity to help fund the budget of the city. Just as most Americans are strapped for funds, so too are our cities. What easier way to raise money—impose parking restrictions, put in red light cameras, etc.? My opinion, but often it comes down to money.

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