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What's the Story Behind L.A.'s Preferential Parking Districts?

Preferential parking districts can be spotted throughout L.A., much to the chagrin of many drivers. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET
Preferential parking districts can be spotted throughout L.A., much to the chagrin of many drivers. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

Living in Los Angeles, most drivers know the woes of trying to park in the parts of the city where permits reign supreme. You think you've found a spot on a residential side street and can save some cash on parking, only to realize that stretch is reserved for those with the illustrious district parking permit. Or you live in a densely packed neighborhood, with the only nearby street parking available is around the corner, but it's off limits.

That's when the frustration sets in.

For many, those areas mean more than setting aside more time to find parking and walk a longer distance, or shelling out $10 to park in a lot; these preferential parking districts lead to expensive fees and fines that leave a dent in Angelenos' wallets.

So why do they exist?

These districts -- born out of the demands of Westwood homeowners tired of dealing with UCLA students and mall rats parking on their streets -- began popping up when the City Council passed its preferential parking ordinance in 1979.

Two years prior, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of preferential parking districts, and they began spreading across the country.

Preferential parking districts in the city of Los Angeles address "intrusive parking" by non-residents and commuter vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, while allowing residents with permits -- and their guests, if the resident applied for a guest permit -- to park. Annual permits cost $34.

The department says districts address "negative impacts" of non-resident parking on residential neighborhoods, and encourage carpooling while reducing noise, traffic hazards, and litter.

To establish a permanent parking district, LADOT must first receive a formal request from a neighborhood council, homeowners association, or council member. Following the request is an informal meeting to identify a parking problem and discuss available alternatives.

Like many city processes, there a few more hoops to jump through. The group requesting the district is responsible for collecting signatures for a petition, which then must be verified by LADOT, which will then perform a parking study to validate the parking problem, which is defined when 75 percent of spaces are occupied, 25 percent of them by non-residents.

Once at least four blocks pass the study, LADOT writes a report and conducts a public hearing with a 30-day public comment period. Notices of public hearing are posted at least 15 days before the hearing along the streets in and around the proposed district; they are also printed in the local newspaper, according to Jonathan Hui, a LADOT spokesperson.

The study does not include how the new parking restrictions would affect parking in neighboring residential and commercial areas, Hui said. If established, residents outside the district boundaries, even if they live around the corner, will be prohibited from parking on affected streets.

Finally, the report is sent to the City Council's Transportation Committee, and then to the full council for approval. If passed, orders are put in for street signs, residents are notified, and permits go on sale.

There are a few exceptions to parking in these districts: cars with disabled person or veteran plates are exempt, as well as commercial vehicles servicing a residence on the permitted street.

"A lot of places have some version of this," says Michael Manville, an expert in city planning at Cornell University who has closely studied Los Angeles' complicated parking situation. "People don't want their curb spaces to be crowded; people want to park near or in front of where they live."

On the other hand, he adds, it makes sense that everyone in the city should be able to park on the streets -- they pay to maintain them with their tax dollars, after all.

"If you live in an area that is popular, you should expect that a lot of people are going to occupy the public space around it," Manville says. "The solution is to treat it as any commodity in high demand -- put a price on it. Cities offer their public land on the street for well below what its worth and it gets crowded. You run out of parking and neighbors get upset."

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