Costa Mesa revises residential parking permit program to ease congestion, increase equity

Costa Mesa City Council recently adopted a new, revised residential parking permit program.
Costa Mesa City Council recently adopted a new, revised residential parking permit program designed to relieve congestion and end the battle for spots between apartment dwellers and R-1 homeowners looking to park offsite. The “no parking except by resident permit” are shown above on Meyer Place in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Recognizing parking as a precious commodity — particularly where multifamily units and commercial businesses increase the demand for spots — Costa Mesa officials last week adopted a new residential permit parking program that aims to relieve congestion for more residents.

The program will allow Costa Mesans to petition for a “permit-only parking” zone on residential streets. If 51% or more of affected tenants or homeowners sign the petition, and the street’s parking occupancy is high enough, they may participate.

Whereas permit parking is currently free and applies mostly to R-1 single-family residential zones, council members agreed in a May 3 meeting to expand eligibility to all residents and charge an annual fee as part of a residential parking action plan.

Implementation is anticipated to cost $220,000 in fiscal year 2022-23 with future costs recouped through the purchase of permits.

Councilman Manuel Chavez, who represents a portion of the city’s west side, said some apartment dwellers in his district have had to park their cars blocks away from their homes because they weren’t eligible for permit parking.

“[Their] streets were impacted, but because half the street was single-family and half the street was multifamily, they couldn’t have this permit,” he said. “I think this will be a fairer system.”

Although households may currently obtain up to three permits, under the new program, each driver in a residence would be able to seek only one permit for one vehicle registered to that individual.

The idea is to incentivize people with homes to park in garages and driveways instead of on public streets, said Julie Dixon, president of consulting firm Dixon Unlimited Resources, which helped the city develop the new plan.

“So, if I lived alone and had three cars, I’d only get one permit,” she said of the new rules. “This really [addresses] management of our vehicle and not putting the burden on the city to store my multiple cars.”

The plan was drafted with input from more than 130 community members who attended four public meetings last year and 356 respondents to an online parking survey issued in March and April 2021.

The program will be rolled out in phases over the next 18 to 20 months. The city will coordinate enforcement, install license plate reader cameras and implement a permit management system to allow people to apply for and purchase permits.

City officials will then seek renewals from existing parking permit zone residents who face external impacts from things like adjacent high schools, colleges or the O.C. fairgrounds. Afterward, remaining permit zone residents would be notified of the program and offered a chance to renew.

Staff initially recommended an annual fee of $25 for first permits and escalating amounts for additional placards, with free permits for low-income residents. Annual parking permits cost $30 in Anaheim and $72.29 in Santa Ana, while Huntington Beach charges $24 for a first permit and $10 for additional vehicles.

“This is not something that was intended to generate revenue — this is about quality of life,” Dixon clarified.

Councilman Jeff Harlan, however, feared too low a fee might not fully recover program costs or curb behaviors that burden parking scenarios.

“In some ways, we’re essentially charging for the private use of public space here,” he said. “I think that requires a little bit more explanation.”

Council members ultimately decided to charge a nominal fee for low-income households and continue to discuss what to charge for standard permits as the city amends its municipal code and an ordinance returns for a public hearing and final approval.

“I’m eager to get this started,” said Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds. “I think this is going to help solve a lot of issues.”

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