Fullerton officials plan to temporarily stop enforcing a 47-year-old ban on overnight parking along city streets while a more permanent solution to the lack of space is developed.
“I feel like the law where they get tickets just for parking on the street is, in a way, criminalizing poverty,” Stone Peterson, an apartment resident in an area with a shortage of parking spaces told the city council March 21.
He said many city residents are forced to live in higher density housing because of economics, which leads to more cars.
Insufficient overnight street parking has become an increasing problem in recent years, particularly in the southern sections of the city where there are concentrations of apartment complexes.
The city council decided to address the issue in two steps.
First, on a 3-2 vote, the council directed city staff to begin work on temporarily ending enforcement of a citywide law that bars parking on streets between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
The citywide moratorium on enforcing the ban is scheduled for a full council vote at Tuesday’s meeting.
Currently, those who don’t have other overnight parking alternatives must either wake up and move their cars or face a $35 parking ticket. If someone has five outstanding parking tickets, their car can be towed and they will be charged $200 by Fullerton, on top of the impound fees each tow company charges.
“That’s really sad. That’s really unfortunate that you’re dealing with that,” Councilman Greg Sebourn told tenants during council deliberations. “You’re already in a tough spot and you get nickel and dimed with these tickets.”
Separately, the council unanimously voted March 21 to form a subcommittee of the Traffic and Circulation Committee (TCC) that will seek permanent solutions to the parking problems that plague older neighborhoods around the city.
The lack of overnight street parking is particularly acute in neighborhoods with high numbers of apartment complexes.
But more than 20 homeowners, mostly from areas that already are exempt from the parking ban, opposed temporarily lifting it before an overall solution is developed.
The homeowners in neighborhoods where the overnight parking ban already has been lifted complained of trash littering the streets and lawns in front of their houses, including condoms, drug paraphernalia, liquor bottles, baby diapers and fast food bags.
“They’re (apartment tenants) drinking out in public,” homeowner Robert Savage said. “This is ridiculous.”
“They actually change their kids (diapers) and throw the poop into our grass for us to clean up!” said Carolyn Goodwin. “We’ve asked for help, I don’t know how many times. Don’t you see? With us paying our property taxes … we’re helping you guys (councilmembers) keep your jobs that you’re in.”
Goodwin said apartment tenants even stole sprinklers from home lawns.
Bryan Lisnick said the apartments near his neighborhood are starting to drag the area down because people are parking in front of his place early in the morning and hanging out, drinking and listening to loud music.
“They’re sitting in their car smoking something,” Lisnick said. “Maybe they’re smoking a little marijuana, maybe they’re smoking Winstons, maybe they’re smoking some crack — I don’t know … I don’t feel safe.”
Only a handful of tenants showed up to speak. All of them said they understand homeowners’ concerns, but are stuck without parking.
“It’s just a very bad issue,” Rudy Varelal said. “I feel for the homeowners, but there’s not enough parking.
Councilman Jesus Silva addressed homeowners’ trash concerns and said that, unfortunately, litter will happen regardless of the early morning parking ban.
“Bullshit,” was loudly muttered by someone in the audience immediately after Silva’s remark.
“I can see both sides and it’s a tough one,” Silva said.
However, Councilman Doug Chaffee said he was ready to permanently end the early morning parking ban and cited legal concerns.
“I’m very surprised the American Civil Liberties Union hasn’t sued the city over this,” Chaffee said. “It clearly discriminates against tenants.”
He also cited a 2005 city ordinance that forbids using apartment garages for storage.
“Well, that is a discrimination against tenants. If that is the law, then the same would apply for homeowners,” Chaffee said. “I do favor simply repealing the ordinance.”
“You know what Mr. Chafee? How about we all leave our trash cans out on the street!” interjected Goodwin immediately after Chaffee’s comments.
“We’ll have no shouting from the audience. Sit down — please — or you will be removed,” Mayor Bruce Whitaker told the angry resident.
The meeting continued without further incident.
Whitaker said he is concerned with the “musical chairs activity” of the apartment tenants parking situation in areas that don’t have an exemption.
“The one thing that is clear to me is that we’ll need to become decisive soon.”
The council previously created a patchwork series of exemptions to the parking ban in neighborhoods, throughout the city. That approach eased overnight parking problems in about three neighborhoods a year, according to the meeting agenda documents.
The latest series of exemptions stemmed from an apartment tenant’s emotional plea to the council last October that she was overburdened with parking tickets.
Sebourn, who voted against temporarily lifting the overnight parking ban citywide, suggested the city instead do it just in older neighborhoods. His proposal failed to gain any support.
“I think that we need to have a plan in place before we change the law,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald, who also voted against temporarily lifting the ban citywide. She suggested the council continue lifting the overnight parking ban on an area-by-area basis until there’s some type of city consensus.
Meanwhile, the 1970 overnight parking ban causes complaints, appeals and requests every year for exemptions.
According to staff reports, the Public Works Department spends about 15 hours per month on in-person or phone complaints. They handle on average about four to six complaints per week; however, during heavy enforcement, that number can bump up to four to six complaints per day.
The Code Enforcement division spends approximately two hours and 25 minutes per case and handles 110 cases per year, on average. That’s nearly 266 hours spent every year handling complaints that deal with cars blocking driveways or sidewalks, garages not being used for parking, lawn parking and cones placed in streets to save spaces. The division does not handle overnight parking complaints.
According to the study, Fullerton Police get an average of 100 calls a month from residents who want the ban enforced in their neighborhoods.
The department also spends three and a half hours a day either dealing with in-person or phone call complaints about the parking rule.
They also average 300 appeals a month that a police lieutenant spends one to three hours on for each appeal filed.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.