The June 19th council meeting was interesting and entertaining. Some council members were offended that people were saying that the lawn parking nuisance ordinance was really all about control. I can understand why they got upset. In their heart and mind their motives were pure. They were striving mightily to protect local property values and control was the furthest thing from their minds. And they were right, but that isn't the complete picture. Let's take a step down from the council platform and into the ground level where the rest of the citizens, the political observers, and I sit and watch and participate in this whole government process.
At its most fundamental governments at all levels are about control. They may call it laws or ordinances or regulation and use fees and taxes and people with guns for enforcement but governments work by controlling certain types of behavior. They protect rights by trying to control those that would infringe them. Governments don't really build things. They don't grow things. They manage the shared resources of communities which is another way of saying they control things. So at a very fundamental level being in government is about control. It's why they were created. It's what they do. If you're in government, controlling is a major part of what you do.
By now the offended council members are likely thinking “That may be true but that's not why we are looking at lawn parking. True, we are trying to control a nuisance but our goal, our motivation is to protect property values and property owners investments.” Fair enough. So lets look at this whole lawn parking thing from down at the citizen level.
This ordinance is supposed to be about protecting property values and investments. That's a common problem so I did what I usually do and looked at how other cities are dealing with issue. Many cities, in fact most that I looked at, ignore parking on lawns. They leave it up to Home Owners Associations and deed restrictions and neighbors working with neighbors to deal with issues such as cars in the yard and ugly landscaping and paint jobs. Other cities, like Abilene declare “Vehicles in the yard of any residence excluding improved parking surfaces, or areas screened from the public view by an opaque fence” a nuisance. No exceptions. These policies apply to all residences on all streets. No exceptions. There are cities that leave it up to the neighborhood. They have an opt-in mechanism. Get 75% or 80% of the residences on a block or in a neighborhood to petition city hall and your neighborhood will have car free lawns. You and your neighborhood decides, not city hall. Lets compare that with what our city council is looking at.
The proposed ordinance starts out protecting property values by not allowing parking on unimproved surfaces. Then it goes on to add 7 exceptions to this “protection”. The city won't protect your property value if your street is 36' or narrower. No protection if the vehicle has a handicapped plate or mirror hanger. Three exceptions if your neighbors house doesn't have an "improved surface" to park on. In the end, code enforcement will have to have a 100' tape measure, a square or protractor, and probably a copy of the thoroughfare plan to determine whether or not they can write a citation to protect your property values from the nuisances caused by your neighbors. The ordinance as proposed shows an attempt at a fine grained control which in the end protects newer neighborhoods with wide streets while leaving older neighborhoods with narrow streets and dirt parking areas to fend for themselves. And it will still cause unnecessary expenses for residences with a one car curb cut and two car wide compacted dirt parking areas. In the end this ordinance creates a two tier level of “protection.” It will protect and increase the value of protected residences while likely hurting the values of those homes left unprotected. Those citizens who spoke in favor of this ordinance last time need to go check their properties closely. That investment property just might not be protected. Those new homes in the targeted neighborhoods? How wide are those streets again? They just might not be protected as well. Real estate investors? Don't bother looking on these streets. The city doesn't protect the values there. Maybe the property and investment values of all the houses with exceptions will not only not be protected, their values will be damaged as an unintended consequence.
Sitting down here in the peanut gallery it's easy to get confused when the protection is applied unevenly but the control is applied across the entire city. It's really no wonder that many people would think that it's really not about protecting the value of some residences, it's about control.