Jeff Clemetson | Editor
La Mesa residents who see their neighborhoods getting crowded with unwanted parked cars may soon have an option to address the issue.
On March 27, the city of La Mesa’s Director of Public Works and City Engineer Richard Leja presented to City Council an initial outline of a plan to offer residential neighborhoods in La Mesa the option to form parking districts. Parking districts make it illegal for people to park in certain areas of the city without a permit sticker or guest pass. Violators are subject to tickets or even towing.
Last August, City Council directed city staff to research parking districts. The direction was on the heels of a contentious vote to approve the Little Flower Haven housing project that took advantage of an affordable housing law that allows developers to put in less than normal parking spaces. Neighbors of that project voiced concerns that the housing project’s lack of parking would force its residents and guests into their already overcrowded streets.
The recommendations for a plan that was presented came from looking at current practices used by the city’s traffic department, holding stakeholder meetings, and reviewing the best practices of other cities that have parking districts, Leja said. The city found 13 elements, but only recommended 11 to the council.
Formation and boundaries of districts using study-based, objective measurements; no parking district subzones.
Petition thresholds that set the number of people in a neighborhood needed to start the process of creating a parking district. Staff suggested 50 percent of residents plus one.
Fees and cost recovery to cover actual costs only.
Setting the number of permits — four per household: three permanent, one guest.
Duration of districts — require traffic commission verification every two years.
Permit protection against counterfeits.
Exemptions — remove any conflicts with other regulations; exempt government/emergency vehicles, disabled and other special situations.
Residents and owners — set up process for owners and renters; only residents and owners to receive permits.
District priority — prioritize evaluations using yearly work plans and based on degree of critical need.
Development impacts — re-evaluation and reconsideration of a parking district if a more intensive development occurs in a district.
Land use and zoning — district boundaries be limited to areas with similar zoning and land uses.
City staff did not recommend trying to limit guest placards to certain types of guests, such as businesses using the placards to park employees in neighborhoods. According to Leja and City Attorney Glenn Sabine, this action would not be enforceable.
“For us to distinguish between a homeowner that is also a business owner versus a homeowner who is a resident, it would be very difficult to make a blanket policy-wide determination that would be feasible and more importantly, enforceable under state law,” Leja said.
The omission of restricting businesses from using guest placards was unwelcome news for residents of Wellesley Street, which is currently the only neighborhood in La Mesa with an active parking district. Wellesley Street is home to several group homes and is around the corner from the group homes’ management company’s offices. The Wellesley residents voiced complaints that employees of the company who work in the office use the guest placards from the group homes and take parking spaces away from residents of their neighborhood. Residents rely on street parking because a lot of their homes do not have driveways to use.
The other element that was rejected from the recommendations list was the formation of parking subzones where residents would be able to save certain spaces in front of homes. Staff deemed them not practical because of limited spaces and enforcement challenges, Leja said.
After the presentation, City Council requested some changes to the recommendations. Councilmember Colin Parent asked that the threshold for residents to be able to vote in a parking district be raised.
“If we really wanted to have some assurance that we’re doing something that the neighborhood is supportive of, 50 percent plus one might be too low a threshold,” he said.
After deliberation, City Council directed staff to come back with a proposal that would look at raising the threshold and to examine possibilities between 2/3 of residents and nothing less than 60 percent.
Costs of the parking districts, and who would pay for them, were also considered. Susan Wayne, a resident who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the Little Flower Haven development, said parking districts would be a last resort if developments and businesses make the parking problem unsafe in residential neighborhoods and suggested that new developments should pay for the operating costs of the parking districts.
“The people who live in the houses are not the root source of the problem,” she said. “It’s the lack of parking that these other places have — and it’s causing the overflow into the neighborhoods.”
Although the council did not direct staff to add such a provision, Vice Mayor Kristine Alessio requested that the city keep the costs down for residents who want to start a parking district.
Another additional provision was grandfathering in the Wellesley Street district, which currently allows for more permits than the staff recommendations for future districts.
With the changes to the recommendations, City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to return with a formal plan for a vote when it is finished.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.