Growing Pains: Urbanization Fuels Orange County Parking Problems

Scott Smeltzer/Daily Pilot

Vehicles line up on Juno Avenue in Anaheim on Monday, April 10.

Residents in an increasingly dense Orange County are feeling the growing pains of scarce parking.

“Every home or condo or apartment is generating more vehicles today than it was ten or twenty years ago,” said Carlo Tomaino, assistant to the city manager in Lake Forest.

In the county’s urban core where apartments are packed near single-family homes, curbs are often crowded bumper-to-bumper with cars.

Homeowners and renters alike complain about long patrols after work for an empty space, only to face the other side effects of too little street parking: litter, spillover parking from nearby schools and events, strangers parking mobile homes and work trucks on public streets, and even dealers who use residential street curbs as a free display for used cars.

Scott Smeltzer/Daily Pilot

A pickup truck looks for a parking spot on Juno Avenue in Anaheim on Monday, April 10.

“Would you like to go home at night and park three streets away and walk to your house?” Ray Abrahamson, an Anaheim homeowner, asked the City Council. “We can’t leave our house to go grocery shopping and come back with a parking space.”

Most cities have tried to solve the problem by issuing parking permits to residents, a move that helped some streets, but shifted the parking shortage to others. Other cities, like Fullerton, created a patchwork of apartment neighborhoods where overnight street parking is allowed, but the streets still are jammed.

In Anaheim’s Juno Avenue neighborhood, one mile west of Disneyland, nearly all nearby single-family home streets have converted to permit-only parking, squeezing apartment dwellers into an ever-shrinking space.

Thy Vo/Voice of OC

An alley behind Juno Avenue in Southwest Anaheim, where apartment dwellers illegally park because of lack of parking in the neighborhood.

Many resort to illegally parking in fire lanes in narrow alleys and eat the cost of parking tickets, while permitted streets one block over sit half-empty.

Leah McCallaugh, a resident of Fullerton who lives in an apartment, waved a handful of parking tickets at a city council meeting in October, pleading tearfully for officials to fix the problems an overnight parking ban caused her and other apartment residents with limited parking.

“All these are tickets from where I live. I work hard. I’m a taxpayer. I have every right to park on the streets I live on,” McCallaugh told the council.

The Fullerton city council has discussed temporarily suspending its ban on overnight parking.

Much of the apartment and multifamily housing stock countywide was built before the 1970s, when households had fewer 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.

North and central OC cities, where the population is denser and the housing stock is older, are hit much harder by the parking issues than south Orange County, which developed much later. Where similar problems show up in south Orange County, they’re on a more limited scale.

A study by the city of Lake Forest found most of its overflow parking problems occurred at the southern tip of the city, especially in three census tracts where there tend to be more people per household and the housing stock was built in the 1960s.

Advocates for apartment owners and residents say penalties disproportionately affect renters.

“A lot of times, it seems like people in neighborhoods with apartments tend to get parking tickets more frequently than residential neighborhoods,” said Nicholas Dunlap, a board member for the Apartment Association of Orange County.

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

Dunlap believes that opinion calls into question the legality of some city parking policies.

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

Scarce Housing

Part of the solution may lie in housing.

A shortage of affordable housing has compounded the parking problem, with more adult millenials living with their parents and families doubling up into apartments.

A worker needs to make $25 an hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Orange County, according to the 2016 OC Community Indicators Report, but two-thirds of county jobs don’t pay that much.

The same report determined the county’s four largest job sectors – construction, tourism, business and professional and health services – don’t have annual salaries high enough to buy an entry-level home.

A number of cities now are reviewing their permit parking policies in search of solutions.

In Anaheim, after residents raised concerns about equity in the permit parking program, the City Council discussed changing the policy, although nothing specific has been proposed yet.

Santa Ana Acting City Manager Gerardo Mouet recently initiated an internal review of the city’s residential parking program to address complaints from residents.

Other cities are approaching the problem by creating additional public parking.

In Lake Forest, where officials are considering an overhaul to their parking policies, the city has discussed eliminating undeveloped green space near the Viejo West Condominiums to create more parking and is exploring a deal to create overnight permit parking at the Lake Forest Golf Course.

Tomaino said part of the solution lies in getting homeowners’ associations and property managers to enforce rules prohibiting residents from using their garages for storage and living space and instead use them for parking.

Stanton officials recently proposed turning a vacant lot at Cerritos and Flower Avenues into a public lot to help deal with spillover parking. They also are eliminating red fire lanes where they aren’t necessary to create room for street parking.

Robert Rizzie, who owns duplex apartments on Juno Avenue in Anaheim, said absent a solution, the city’s permit parking policy continues to pit neighbor against neighbor.

“You pack people in and give them no options – the city is creating tensions that shouldn’t be there,” Rizzie said.

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

  • Evan Little

    Cities evolve and change for better or worse and fighting that change only compounds problems. I hope we can learn to better embrace higher density in the most logical regions of OC and get ready for the wave of autonomous vehicles that will allow urban dwellers to enjoy the use of a vehicle when they want without owning one or needing to find a place to park. The weak density restrictions we have now is just eating up more open space that we should be preserving for future generations, stretching emergency services and basic utility services out over a larger area, and forcing mediocre low and mid-rise mega apartment complexes that pop up randomly throughout Orange County with little or no long term consideration for how they will connect to basic services, jobs, community engagement corridors, etc.

    With the loss of Redevelopment Agencies, though they did seem corrupted, long term parcel consolidation that very very few private interests would be willing to take on to enable larger scale projects is going to become extremely difficult in built regions that require new infill. After the rest of these City/County own parcels that had been collected through Redevelopment Agencies are sold off and developed, we’ll be in an even more disadvantaged position to provide new infill development.

    Higher density projects, especially the larger master planned communities, are not adequately addressing the need for community engagement either. Typically we’re feed some boilerplate, formulaic community amenities that go underutilized.

    I would prefer to live somewhere with better urban planning that isn’t designed around cars (thanks a lot standard oil for buying up all the rail lines during WWII and dismantling them and sticking us with only freeways), but trying to stand in the way of others who would also like to live here doesn’t feel right to me and that’s where most NIMBYs become unrelatable.

    I’m thankful that I have the freedom to move elsewhere if I choose to and that my home is very valuable as a result of the positive growth in OC as compared to the average US pricing. It would be rough to be stuck in a smaller town that just lost a major employer, had horrible pollution, etc which could make it difficult to move somewhere new.

  • PIFA123

    Agenda 21. Pack the people in as much as possible. You tube Agenda 21. Opens ones eyes to what our government decided without us.

  • LFOldTimer

    Most homes have a garage and a driveway that should be able to accommodate 4 vehicles.

    Why aren’t the homeowners using those areas to park their rides?

    Why do they need exclusive rights to spaces on public streets that are owned and maintained by all taxpayers?

    If you’re a homeowner and own more than 4 cars you’ve created your own problem. Telling other taxpayers that they can’t park on your street is about as selfish as it gets.

    How would you like to be banned from using a picnic table at your local park due to a shortage of tables?

  • Mike A.

    I’m tired of moving my vehicles around to accommadate a parking space just so I can go to the store, it’s ridiculous to come home and somebody parked a junk truck in front of your house for the weekend.

    • LFOldTimer

      Take off any politically correct glasses you may be wearing and consider the cause(s), Mike.

      As a homeowner you do not exclusively own the street. A street is a public asset funded by all taxpayers.

      Reserving street parking spots on public streets exclusively for homeowners is a very slippery slope that we should avoid at all costs.

      Instead of prohibiting other taxpayers from parking on your street look to the causes of overcrowding and deal with those.

      Let’s not resort to fascism.

  • LFOldTimer

    I guess upwards of a million new California driver’s licenses for illegal aliens wouldn’t have anything to do with it. lol.

    Again, not a single sentence about the illegal immigration problem when it’s documented that there are 300,000 or more illegals residing in OC.

    Of course you notice that most of these problems related to overcrowding are centered in the areas that have the heaviest population of illegals (Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, etc…). And to pour fuel on the fire the idiots declare themselves to be ‘sanctuary cities’ with pride. LOL!

    But from the other sides of their mouths they cry about overcrowded living conditions and lack of parking spaces. lol.

    It’s like trying to have a logical discussion with a schizophrenic off his meds.

    In times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

    The open dishonesty is repulsive.

    • Becks T.

      Of course this issue is exacerbated in Anaheim and Santa Ana. They are the largest cities in the OC, therefore, most populous. My neighbor used to live in Irvine and said he used to have to walk a block away to park so it is a countywide, if not statewide issue. New buildings should be required to provide more parking spaces to address the trend of more drivers per household regardless of what city it is. Landlords should also be held accountable for overcrowding units.

      • LFOldTimer

        So are you denying that illegal immigration has a big impact on overcrowded living conditions and parking congestion in OC, particularly with illegal aliens now obtaining CADL’s?

        They say we have over 300,000 illegals in OC. No doubt the true figure is MUCH larger than that. Nearly a million already have CADL’s. It’s safe to say we have at least 5 million illegals in California. OC has 8% of the State’s population OC. So we likely have 400,000 or more. That a tremendous number of bodies that require shelter, food, medical care and transportation. And it’s a tremendous number of job thieves too.

        Fullerton has a big illegal alien problem, as does Anaheim and Santa Ana. No wonder those cities are most heavily impacted by overcrowding and parking problems. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

        If you’re in denial regarding the impact of illegal immigration on overcrowding and congestion in OC, that’s your business. I’m just giving you the facts. You can accept them or ignore them.

        But if you choose to ignore them you’re part of the problem.

  • Mike Tardif

    The City of Santa Ana’s refusal to properly regulate Accessory Dwelling Units – “granny flats” – will only add to the problem.

    • Jane Rands

      Yeah, the accessory unit/granny flat thing with no parking required is a state thing.
      At least all the new high density housing needs to provide a lot more parking than is being required in cities such as Fullerton to not exacerbate the known growing problem of too many cars and not enough parking.

      But in cities like Fullerton, residents repeatedly speak at community meetings, study sessions, planning commission meetings, and city council meetings about the need for sufficient parking in high density projects to avoid spill over into establushed neighborhoods. But the public concerns are summarily ignored by decision makers, planning staff, and developers. Oh well. To hell in a hand basket with nothing but an “I told you so” in the end.

      • Mike Tardif

        Yes, it is a state thing – however, there is flexibility built into the law which thus far Santa Ana has refused to take advantage.