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Should the Curb Space Sell With the House? Let’s Make City Streets Public Again

<i> Geraldine Dallek, a health</i> -<i> policy consultant, lives in West Los Angeles</i>

In selected areas throughout the City of Los Angeles, especially on the Westside, the public curbs are no longer public. With the advent of “preferential parking,” the streets of Los Angeles (at least the portions needed for parking) have become the exclusive property of homeowners. In Los Angeles you can now buy the curb along with your house.

Homeowners with preferential-parking privileges control the public’s access to the streets around their homes. Depending on the neighborhood, parking may be restricted in a number of ways: two hours during weekdays and entirely prohibited on evenings and weekends; totally prohibited on weekdays but permitted on evenings and weekends; forbidden entirely, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In these latter instances parking is more than preferential. Homeowners are given exclusionary property rights to their curbsides.

Preferential parking began with the demands of Westwood homeowners, whose streets were overrun with UCLA students in search of free parking and with moviegoers who wanted to avoid adding parking fees to the cost of their theater tickets. These homeowners certainly had a point; driveways were sometimes blocked, occasionally by noisy teen-agers returning to their cars at all hours of the night.

Similarly, homeowners in the few blocks around the new Westside Pavilion shopping mall were justified in seeking some protection from bumper-to-bumper automobiles and noisy shoppers. But things have gone too far. In order to protect a few blocks around the Pavilion, a preferential-parking district was established that extends from Sepulveda to Beverly Glen. If two-thirds of the homeowners on any block of this vast area vote for preferential parking,it will automatically be granted, even if no parking problems exist.

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The City Council’s preferential-parking ordinance was passed in 1979. Today there are 23 preferential-parking districts in the city, with more than 15 additional district applications pending.

The extent to which preferential parking has been abused was brought home to me in a conversation with a friend. This friend lives on a quiet residential street about 10 blocks from Century City. He voted against a neighbor’s petition to prohibit all parking (24 hoursa day, seven days a week) on his street. Since there was no parking problem, he was mystified by his neighbor’s request. Because his block was located in a preferential-parking district, however, it was unnecessary for petitioners to prove that a problem existed. All that they needed was for two-thirds of his neighbors to sign the petition.

For the privilege of curb ownership, my friend has to pay $15 a year and a dollar per car for guest-parking permits. Residents of preferential blocks are given two parking permits, but if they have more than two visitors they must pay for one-day special permits. Before a dinner party my friend shops not only for groceries but for parking permits as well.

We’ve gone too far in catering to homeowners who want to make the public streets private. It’s not as if homeowners have nowhere to park. Almost all homes in Los Angeles are required by law to have a garage or covered carport big enough for two cars. Moreover, most homes have substantial driveways. Thus homeowners and renters have parking space even if there is no room on their street.

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In some neighborhoods like Westwood, in which street traffic can be oppressive, providing a measure of privacy in the evenings seems a legitimate exercise of government authority. But 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

Residents in the hills of Los Angeles know that government can do only so much to protect them from mud slides and fires. Those who are rich enough to afford homes along the beach understand that the beaches are for everyone and that they must assume the risk of storm damage. Why should Los Angeles homeowners with adequate parking for their cars and protection from unreasonable noise in the evenings demand more than that?

Preferential parking is an arrogant abuse of power by neighborhoods, and by elected city officials who cater to them. The rights of the minority people on a block--like my friend--who want to keep their street public, and of Los Angeles drivers who compete for increasingly limited street parking, are being ignored.

The Los Angeles City Council needs to take another look at preferential parking. Let’s make the streets of Los Angeles public once again.

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