In a growing number of Orange County neighborhoods, public street parking has become a daily battle between residents over who has the right to park in front of their home, and who should spend their evening patrolling the neighborhood for an open curb.

The shortage of parking spaces and what to do about it has sparked community debates from La Habra to Lake Forest with cities including Anaheim, Fullerton, Stanton and Orange trying to find a solution.

Many cities have turned to permit-only parking, which while solving problems with trash, commuters and sedentary cars for homeowners, has often generated more problems for apartment dwellers.

But the realities created by permit parking programs could get some cities in trouble if they don’t ensure their programs are fair for all residents, no matter what their home looks like.

An opinion published last April by former state Attorney General Kamala Harris concludes that residential permit parking programs can’t discriminate against residents based on the type of dwelling they live in.

Ray Maggi, a board member of the Apartment Association of Orange County, believes many cities have regulations that favor homeowners and don’t protect the rights of apartment residents to their share of the public streets.

“They [city officials] have a political problem,” Maggi said. “They don’t want to tell the homeowners that it’s not their street, but public parking.”

The Parking Conundrum

The state vehicle code allows local authorities to restrict parking in order to reduce traffic and litter from nonresidents, and to ensure convenient parking is available for residents.

Permit parking is largely a reaction to complaints heard across the county about litter, spillover from nearby schools and events, strangers parking their mobile homes and work trucks on public streets, and even dealers who use residential street curbs as a free display for used cars.

That’s due in part to the fact that much of the apartment and multifamily housing stock countywide was built prior to the 1970s, when households had fewer cars and working adults. Many provide just one or two dedicated parking spots. The result is apartment residents tend to rely on street parking more than those living in single-family homes.

For example, on Juno Avenue in Anaheim, homeowners have petitioned for a permit-only zone on their side of the street, taking half of the street’s curb space despite the fact that the apartment residents on the other side of Juno outnumber them.

Over the last few years, one-by-one, nearby streets have all converted to resident-only permit parking, squeezing apartment residents into a smaller and smaller place. Many now rely on parking illegally along alleyways.

Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city provides all residents “the same opportunity, steps and criteria” for processing permit parking requests, and that “the program is fair to everyone who lives in Anaheim.”

But Maggi and other members of the Apartment Association don’t see it that way.

Nicholas Dunlap, also a board member for the Apartment Association, said the organization has been trying for months to get cities like Anaheim to make changes that better serve apartment residents.

Although they have yet to sue any cities, Dunlap said that appears to be “the next step.”

“It’s gotten to a point now where…we continue to work with these cities and can’t effectuate needed changes, and they aren’t following the law,” said Dunlap. “We try to be friendly and proactive with different cities…[but] we aren’t getting much of a choice.”

A Variety of Approaches

Cities vary widely in how they enforce permit parking programs.

Anaheim allots up to five permits per single family household and two permits for multi-family housing. Santa Ana gives single-family households up to three permits, and one permit per unit for multifamily housing, although the city doesn’t allow permits for complexes with more than four units.

Large new apartment complexes are supposed to provide parking for tenants, another hot issue when multiple drivers live in units with just one or sometimes two parking spaces.

Cities like Brea, Fullerton and La Habra have across-the-board overnight parking bans, but allow residents to purchase permits based on their need for curbside parking.

Lake Forest has a policy that requires multifamily developments to address parking issues through management practices before the city will consider a permit petition.

In Orange, permits are only available for single-family and duplex units, and apartment residents are not eligible at all, according to a survey of permit parking programs across Southern California conducted for the city of Laguna Niguel. 

Although the Attorney General’s office does not offer commentary on their written opinions, some of the definitions provided within the state vehicle code call into question the legality of certain parking regulations.

For example, the vehicle code defines a resident of a given street to include not only those living on a street, but also people who live on adjacent streets.

Maggi argues that drawing parking districts down the middle of a block or to exclude residents based on what kind of home they live in – for example, the parking district on Juno Ave. that separates homeowners and apartment residents – would violate the law.

The opinion also notes that state law calls for permit parking programs to take into account people with disabilities and residents of high-density housing who don’t have enough off-street parking.

In Stanton, city officials recently proposed turning a vacant lot at Cerritos and Flower Avenues into a public lot to help deal with spillover parking. They have also agreed to remove red striping on curbs and overnight parking restrictions where it is not absolutely necessary.

Still, solutions are not as easy as giving everyone the same number of permits.

Stanton city staff noted in a recent staff report that simply giving apartment residents and homeowners the same number of permits would not solve the problem if there isn’t enough parking to accommodate all those new permits.

For example, homeowners in permit-only zones in Stanton can receive up to four parking permits. If that same guideline were applied to a 20-unit apartment, the city would have to issue 80 permits.

Dunlap also argues drawing larger permit zones would be more effective to maximize streets where homeowners don’t use all the available curb space.

At a study session last month, Anaheim Public Works Director Rudy Emami noted that, while apartment residents rely heavily on street parking, homeowners also face similar problems with finding curb space.

Ultimately, Emami said, the owners of apartments and properties that generate spillover parking will also need to be a part of the solution.

“We need help from apartment owners to require more on-site [parking], or not to overcrowd the apartments with drivers,” he said. “Eventually there will be this tipping point that it will fall on generators to help solve the problem.”

Maggi, on the other hand, said there’s an even cheaper solution to the problem.

“I think the attorney general was very specific: renters are to be treated the same as homeowners,” Maggi said. “Tell the homeowners that the streets aren’t theirs.”

Contact Thy Vo at or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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