A car's place is in the driveway, the garage or--if it is broken down--in the junkyard.
That was the message delivered last week by county planning officials, as they recommended approval of an ordinance that would prohibit drivers from parking cars in their front yards and reinforce an earlier law that bans homeowners from keeping old junkers on their properties.
The proposed ordinance won unanimous approval last week from the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission. The County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider it within a month. If approved, it would affect unincorporated communities throughout the county, including Malibu, View Park and Ladera Heights on the Westside.
Keeping junk cars and parking on the front lawn have been viewed in some circles as property rights. But homeowners associations and real estate agents argue that the practices are tacky and hurt property values.
Members of the Walnut Park Community Assn. in the southeastern part of the county said they have been complaining for more than five years to county officials, the Sheriff's Department and, finally, the Department of Regional Planning.
"At some houses, there are junk cars parked one right after another from the back of the property right out to the street," said Floyd Dominguez, president of the community group.
Dominguez said his group learned that neighboring cities had laws to control where vehicles are parked but that county statutes were not as well spelled out.
Although the county code prohibits property owners from keeping "inoperable" vehicles on their properties, the term was never defined. Prosecutors had a difficult time enforcing their citations because the law was not clear, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Bax said.
The ordinance recommended by the commission last week defines such a vehicle as any that cannot operate legally on a state highway. It also specifically bans parking cars, whether broken down or brand new, in front yards.
Car enthusiasts protested the proposed ordinance earlier this year. They said the ban on inoperable vehicles would prevent them from pursuing a legitimate hobby: restoring classic cars.
County planners responded by including in the ordinance an exemption for historic or special-interest vehicles.
Ray Beggs of the Assn. of California Car Clubs told the commission Thursday that the exemption satisfies most of the concerns of car collectors. Beggs said he remains concerned that some county code enforcement officers may not be able to distinguish a collector's car that is under repair from a clunker.
"A lot of the success of the ordinance will depend on the discretion exercised by the individual inspectors," Beggs said.
Commissioner Lee Strong said he is worried that the exemption will permit those with broken-down cars to avoid citations by claiming that the cars are historic or special vehicles.
"We are making changes for every little group," Strong said, "and, unfortunately, we are creating an ordinance that isn't any better than what we already have."
Bax said inoperable cars are a problem in all of the county's unincorporated communities.
Under the proposed ordinance, penalties would remain the same as they are under existing law. Offenders are issued a citation, with a fine of about $100, on the first offense. Penalties increase after that. A misdemeanor charge, with a maximum $1,000 fine and six months in jail, can be filed on issuance of the third citation.