Permit parking zones pit homeowners against renters for precious curb space

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As more people move to Southern California, there's a growing conflict between single-family homeowners looking to restrict parking in their neighborhoods and others nearby, many of them renters, who rely on street parking. Now, the issue has boiled over in Orange County's largest city, Anaheim.

Suburban Orange County was built on the promise of spacious, single-family homes; quiet, traffic-free neighborhoods and ample space to park your car. But as curb space has become more scarce, cities like Anaheim are facing a boom in demands for residential permit parking districts.

And Geoff Rizzie and his dad, Bob, are steamed about it.

"It's just shuffling cars around and squeezing the same amount of cars into a smaller and smaller space," an exasperated Geoff Rizzie said. 

Geoff and Bob have amassed a thick portfolio on what they perceive as a grave injustice and extreme folly on the part of the City of Anaheim: the city is considering making half their street permit parking only, adding to three adjacent streets that are also off limits to those without permits.

The younger Rizzie and his wife, Renee, live in a triplex on West Juno Avenue, just off of Ball Road, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Bob Rizzie owns the triplex, one of many that line the south side of Juno. 

In the 13 years that Geoff has lived here, he’s seen the streets around his gradually become the exclusive parking domain of the people who live on those streets, funneling residents from nearby apartments onto Juno. 

“The allocation of parking is inequitable and unfair,” Rizzie said. 

On a recent evening at the end of the workday, both sides of Juno were bumper to bumper, and six cars were double-parked, hazard lights blinking, in the middle of the road.

In contrast, curb space was ample along the three streets north of Juno where people need a permit to park. One resident lifted weights in the full gym he had installed in his garage. Another had four cars parked in the driveway in front of his two-car garage. 

So it’s no wonder that some residents of Juno — namely, those living in the single-family homes on the north side of the street — have applied for their own permit parking district. 

Anaheim and several other cities in Orange County are starting to grapple with the unintended consequences of what started as a tool to keep out-of-town visitors from flooding neighborhoods with vehicles, trash and noise at the expense of residents. 

Residential permit parking districts — essentially a way to reserve street parking in front of your house — have been used for this purpose in Southern California since at least the 1970s. But Orange County cities are seeing a boom in demand for residential parking districts, often from single-family homeowners hoping to keep residents of adjacent apartment buildings from parking on their streets.  

Eric Nelson, community development manager for homebuilder TruMark Homes and a planning commissioner for the City of Dana Point, said the battle over neighborhood curb space is ultimately the result of a much bigger problem: the lack of affordable housing in Orange County.  

As wages fail to keep up with rising housing costs, multiple families often cram into units designed for single families, and adult children are moving back in with their parents or leaving the nest later.

Orange County has an estimated housing deficit of 30,000 to 60,000 homes, according to the Orange County Register.

Alicia Ramirez, who lives on a street lined with single-family homes in central Anaheim, shares her home with her adult daughter and her granddaughter. She said she started noticing the parking squeeze on her street around the time the Great Recession hit. 

"Because they can't afford rents, there could be up to 10 people in a home. So that's a lot of people and a lot of cars," she said.

Ramirez has been working for almost a year to get permit parking established on her street. Though she recognizes that she and her neighbors contribute to overflow parking, she said the added cars from nearby apartment residents make finding street parking exasperating.  

"I get home at 9, 10 o'clock at night and I can't find parking in front of my own home,” she said.   

Ramirez said she's worried the City of Anaheim might do away with the permit parking program after a January workshop during which most city council members, including Councilwoman Lucille Kring, expressed doubts about its effectiveness.

“It’s not solving the problem, at all,” Kring said after describing a recent visit to Juno Avenue. "It’s creating a problem.” 

Anaheim’s City Council had put a monthlong halt to assigning new permit districts, but directed staff to reinstate it at the workshop, despite the council members’ doubts about the program. Council members said quitting the program now would be unfair to the 45 groups that are in some stage of petitioning for permit parking. 

Mike Lyster, a spokesperson for the City of Anaheim, said the city was doing its best to strike a balance between the needs of homeowners and those of apartment residents. 

Currently, there are 43 residential parking districts, meaning the total number could more than double if the city approves all the districts in the queue.  

A few cities in Orange and L.A. counties, including Fullerton, prohibit overnight street parking completely. But at least 38 other cities in Orange and L.A. counties have permit parking zones in residential neighborhoods. 

Besides Anaheim, Lake Forest and Laguna Niguel are also taking a second look at their permit parking programs to make sure they’re not causing more problems than they’re solving.

Carlo Tomaino, assistant to the city manager in Lake Forest, said he's come to the realization that the city needs to take a multi-faceted approach to residential parking problems. He recently presented a white paper on the issue to the Lake Forest City Council. 

"What residents are often complaining about, it’s not always about parking,” he said — even though they think it is. Many residents cite littering and loitering by outsiders parked on their streets as reasons for wanting permit zones. 

Tomaino said those issues can be addressed without closing the street off to public parking. 

He has also suggested that the city take pains to make sure people use their garages for cars, not storage, home gyms or extra bedrooms. 

"We don’t want to create a policy that simply discourages people from using their own property first,” he said.

Still, while a city can act on a complaint about a neighbor using her garage as a second bedroom, it can’t force a person to keep her car in there. 

Nelson, the Dana Point planning commissioner, thinks garage doors are the problem. 

“If there's a garage door, you're unsure if there's a car in there,” he said. "A simple enforcement tool would be to require the removal of every garage door in every city that has a parking problem."

Nelson also thinks cities should start requiring less parking with new developments, rather than more, so that people will be forced to use public transportation and ride-sharing. 

"Parking space is nothing more than a fertility drug for the car,” he said, citing Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking."

“We have to inconvenience people to fix this problem,” Nelson said.

Back on Juno Avenue, the Rizzie family and their apartment-dwelling neighbors are thinking about requesting permits for their side of the street, even though they know that would likely shift their parking woes onto yet another nearby street. 

"It just doesn't make sense that you splinter the city up like this,” Bob Rizzie said. "All you're doing is dividing people against each other. It's supposed to be a community for everyone, not just for a few." 

The City of Anaheim continues to look into potential changes to its current residential parking program.  

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