PICO RIVERA — "Front yards are for growing grass, not cars," Lee Rubio snapped. "Yet, drive around this city and you'd think some lawns are used car lots."
Rubio is mad about cars parked on grassy lawns and he hopes the city is ready to stop it. The Pico Rivera resident is a vocal proponent of a proposed city ordinance that would outlaw parking on lawns, a practice that he and others believe endangers property values and runs counter to the city's drive to spruce up its image.
Yet opponents of the parking ban are equally vehement about their right to park anywhere they choose on their property, including the front lawn. They say it isn't safe to park on city streets. They complain that the narrow driveways on their tiny lots are not big enough to accommodate more than two cars. Some residents even evoke the Constitution when arguing for lawn parking.
"I believe this ordinance is going against our freedom to use our lawns the way we want," said Rick Harding, who admits that he occasionally parks his travel trailer on his lawn.
Months of turbocharged debate over the issue may end Wednesday when the five-member Planning Commission meets. The commissioners, meeting at 7:30 p.m., are expected to decide whether to endorse the lawn parking ordinance and send it to the City Council for final approval or reject the measure. Several hearings on the proposal have been held in recent months, attracting large turnouts.
Said senior city planner John Lampe: "It's been a while since anything in this city has drawn so much attention."
Under the ordinance drafted in February, parking would be permitted on lawns only during street sweeping days. The measure also allows driveways to be widened up to 20 feet to accommodate more cars. Those with special parking problems could seek a variance.
How the city will enforce the ordinance, if approved, has not been determined, Lampe said. One way, he said, is to issue a citation, similar to a parking ticket.
In three neighboring cities, violators are ticketed where front yard parking is illegal.
Banned in Bell Gardens
In Montebello, a lawn parking citation runs $53, while in Downey it costs $25 and in Bell Gardens it is $14.
Montebello banned lawn parking in the mid-1960s. City police issue 50 to 60 tickets a month for parking violations on front lawns. "It is not a major problem in this city," said planner Bob Latta, who credits aggressive enforcement for controlling the problem.
Next door in Bell Gardens, a flurry of citizen complaints about cars stored or propped up on blocks in front yards prompted officials to ban lawn parking a year ago. But enforcement of the ordinance was delayed until last month to allow city officials time to establish enforcement procedures and notify residents of the new law, said Maria Aguirre, assistant city manager. So far, she said, about 30 tickets have been issued.
In Downey, parking on lawns has been illegal since September, 1982. But City Manager Don Davis said he is not sure how many tickets are issued each month because the city does not break out numbers on specific code enforcement violations.
Echoing the sentiments of those opposed to turning lawns into parking lots, Downey City Manager Don Davis said: "One of the goals . . . is to maintain the quality of the city. Parking on the lawns certainly detracts from the city's appearance."
Rubio, an 11-year resident of Pico Rivera, agreed. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, he said he watched his boyhood neighborhood deteriorate as houses fell into disrepair and yards went unkept. "When I bought in Pico Rivera, I thought I had left that behind, that barrio mentality of utter disregard for your neighbors' rights," said Rubio, a semi-retired apartment owner who paid about $62,000 for a 2,800-square-foot house on a half acre on the city's south side. Today, he believes his house at 9200 block of Sunglow Street is worth four times the original purchase price.
"Whether a person maintains their yard or their home is their business," he said. "But I have to draw the line at parking on lawns. Drive down my street and you'll see people who have jacked up cars on lawns and just left them.
"It's not fair to me if their bad habits hurt my property values."
Part of the problem in Pico Rivera, city officials say, is changing demographics. The city is now 80% Latino, and homes that once were occupied by single families now often house large, extended families or several families. Often, city officials say, three or four cars are parked at a single house.
In some cases, like at Olga Munoz's house, sons and daughters live at home to cut costs while going to school or working.