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Keeping Parking Public

January 19, 2003

Public streets seem to get a little less public all the time.

Try to find a parking space near, say, a college in a residential area and the streets are spiked with signs requiring a resident's permit. Or they limit parking to hours when no one actually needs to park. Residents near schools, hospitals, parks and churches long have sought such restrictions to keep their streets from being clogged with cars.

Their sentiment is understandable, but it's also important for them -- and for the cities that hand out parking restrictions like candy -- to remember that all taxpayers chip in for public streets and have a right to use them within reasonable limits.

The latest such tiff is in Fountain Valley, where the city is suing the Ocean View School District over the impact of a spacious new gym at a middle school. The gym would make a nice venue for all kinds of activities, including community meetings, plays and evening athletic events. But those events would draw lots of cars that motor through the neighborhood and park at its curbs.

A court order now prohibits any events that would draw more than 175 people. And the order affects not only the Fountain Valley neighborhood, but also three other district schools in Huntington Beach.

People attending public events at the school would have to park at a remote location, perhaps a high school or community center with plenty of parking spaces, and take a shuttle to the school. The school might distribute tickets to events only at the remote parking lot.

Which raises questions: Should the people in the neighborhood who want to attend an event also be required to drive five miles out of their way to get a ticket and then take a shuttle? And doesn't that just shift the traffic problem to another neighborhood?

This makes an incredibly complex deal out of what should be no more than an occasional annoyance. Residents knew they were moving near a school. They're great to have around, but like hospitals and parks, schools can be a nuisance.

While residents deserve protection from day-in, day-out headaches, they also must expect a certain amount of inconvenience. They also can expect a lot of parking in front of their houses.

Our communities need more available public venues, not fewer. Maximizing use of the public spaces we have makes a lot more sense than trying to build new ones on expensive land with nonexistent money.

The school district and the neighborhood can surely work out a sensible solution that limits the number of large events and the accompanying noise to a minimal number of evenings. Perhaps in exchange, the neighborhood could gain exclusive use of the gym or fields for its own community gatherings on certain days.

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