MONROVIA — Nothing the City Council has ever considered--not taxes, not a controversial residential development in the foothills, not redevelopment projects--has drawn as large a crowd as the one that filled the Community Center on Monday night.
An estimated 350 people spilled out of the main hearing room, which resounded at times with boos and cheers, during the latest, and what the council promised would be the last, public hearing on an ordinance that restricts overnight parking on city streets.
When the hearing ended, 140 people had spoken for or against the 3-month-old measure, which requires residents to get city permission to park their cars on the street overnight. A number of others, in the interest of saving time during the four-hour meeting, agreed to state their opinions in writing.
Faced with angry resistance from residents only after the ordinance was passed in January, the council decided in March not to enforce the measure until a final resolution had been reached. Some residents had applied for special parking permits and undergone required garage inspections, but all action was suspended when the City Council decided to hold a special election on the issue.
"I am opposed to any overnight ban but I would grudgingly accept" a parking prohibition only when street cleaning is scheduled, said Robert Chase, echoing others who spoke against the ordinance. "Why don't you repeal the damn thing? It's useless, unenforceable and ridiculous."
Don Jackson defended the ordinance, telling the council, "You are dragging your heels on overnight parking. You made an intelligent decision (in enacting the ordinance) and you can't satisfy the people here this evening."
Ron Woodward was one of the few speakers in favor of a special election, which the council had at one time approved as a means of resolving the issue.
"Something is wrong with the (ordinance) or you would not have this kind of crowd," he told the council.
The council, whose members did not express opinions during the hearing, is expected to take action on the issue this month after studying the comments made Monday night.
About one-third of the speakers favored the ordinance and another third spoke against it. The rest were opposed to it but willing to compromise with an ordinance that would allow residents to park overnight except when their street is scheduled for sweeping.
Parking has been an issue for five years in Monrovia, one of the few cities in the county that has had no restrictions on overnight parking. But Monrovia also is one of the oldest cities in the county, and in the city's central area many houses were built so long ago that garages and driveways are inadequate to handle the size and number of cars families have today.
"The age of the city makes all the difference in the parking situation," said Marlowe Miller, responding to previous comments that restrictions have worked well in neighboring cities that are much younger.
Monrovia took its first step toward restricting parking in 1984, when officials, trying to make street sweeping more effective, sought residents' opinions on some kind of limit on overnight parking. That year a citywide survey showed that most favored some sort of ordinance.
Voluntary Plan Failed
Last year the city tried a voluntary program in which residents were asked to park their cars on alternate sides of the street on sweeping days. The program was a failure, with only a 14% reduction in the number of cars parked overnight.
After two sparsely attended formal public hearings, the City Council enacted an ordinance in January that would permit residents to obtain exemptions if they could prove that they could not park their cars in their garages and driveways. The exemptions would allow them to obtain temporary overnight permits from the Police Department.
But after a series of outbursts from angry opponents at several City Council meetings, and with a City Council election nearing, the council voted in March to hold a special election on the issue.
Then the proponents of the parking ban appeared, arguing that the election would not only be expensive but also would be an uncourageous way to avoid making a difficult decision.
So beleaguered council members voted to hold Monday's final public hearing on the issue.
Three Possible Solutions
City Manager Jim Starbird told the crowd that the city could go one of three ways in resolving the issue. It could repeal the ordinance, hold an election, or modify the measure through such means as providing for parking on alternate sides of the street.
Many residents objected to the ordinance, calling it an invasion of privacy. One woman said she did not see why she should have to contact the police every time her boyfriend spent the night. Others object to a provision under which garages would be inspected by city officials to determine if a genuine need existed for overnight parking.
Jules Sanford told the council members that they had enacted an imperfect ordinance, but suggested modifications.
Unlike ordinances in many cities, permits in Monrovia would be free. Sanford suggested that peoples' fears might be alleviated if the ordinance were written so that there never would be fees.
But he got a poor reception from the crowd when he suggested a trial period. "Why not try it for one year and then terminate it if it is not working," he suggested. "Give it a fair try."