MODESTO — Karen Hubbard lives in a home in downtown Modesto. It's a mixed area, with houses and businesses side by side. The problem, Karen said, is that streets such as hers have parking limits.
"We have to go out every two hours to move our cars or else we get a ticket," she said. "Why is it that we can't get a parking permit or a residence parking sign in front of our house? We've lived here for 13 years."
The "meter maid" drivers, she added, "see our cars parked in front of our house every time they come around, but they still mark our tires. It would be nice if you find out some answers to these questions."
That's what I'm here for. I first emailed Mayor Garrad Marsh's office. His office passed me on to Jeff Barnes, the city's traffic engineer. He told me that Modesto does have a municipal code "that provides a process for people to follow to pursue residential parking permits in their area of town. The starting contact person is Cindy Ireta in the finance department. Later in the process, assistant engineer David Eshoo in the traffic engineering and operations section of the community and economic development department is involved."
Whoosh! "Later in the process?" Sounds like it could be complicated.
I talked with Cindy, who has been working on updating the city code. That update is under review by the city attorney's office and eventually will go to the City Council for a vote.
Basically, Cindy said, it works like this: A resident writes a petition and gets it signed by 67 percent of the residents and business owners in the neighborhood for example, in a two-block area. They would submit their petition to the city, which would then assign someone in the traffic engineering department to make sure it's feasible and not breaking any other city codes. Then a hearing would be set to give those who oppose the petition a chance to have their say. If it's eventually approved, the residents could then park in that area of town without fear of tickets.
But here's the catch if the residential permit is approved, no one else could park there. That would include someone who wants to eat at the restaurant across the street or the clients of a business in that same two-block radius.
And this isn't exactly an easy process. First, Karen would have to get two-thirds of her neighbors business owners and residents alike to agree to her petition. Then, if she's successful with that, she'd have to wade through a fairly lengthy and cumbersome process to gain parking privileges. Many of those downtown homes are rentals, meaning all those owners would have to be found and persuaded to sign the petition.
All Karen wants is a simple parking permit to put on her car so she doesn't have to move it every couple of hours. How hard would it be to come up with a way to have downtown residents bring in a copy of their utility bill to verify an address and get a six- or 12-month parking placard or sticker?
I told Cindy that my niece, who recently moved into an apartment in San Francisco, was able to apply for a parking permit so she didn't have to keep feeding the parking meters on her block and could ignore the parking limit signs. Her area probably had gone through a residential parking permit process, Cindy pointed out.
"I've called other cities, like Sacramento," Cindy said. "This is how they do it."
And, she added, the parking permit process is for the entire city, rather than just the downtown area. It works well in areas such as the neighborhoods around the main Modesto Junior College campus, where residents in the past have applied for the parking permit zone when they got tired of students blocking driveways and hogging every possible curb space.
I'm not an attorney, a traffic engineer or a municipal code author. But from where I sit, looking out over a block with businesses and residences, I can't imagine many business owners would favor limiting their parking options. And without their support, residents won't have a chance of getting a ticket-free parking space.
I can't see how it could hurt the city to come up with a reasonable solution for these downtown residents. Now's the time to do so, before the City Council considers the updated parking code.
NEXT WEEK: A tale of two roads
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.