Keeping Danville beautiful | April 25, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - April 25, 2008

Keeping Danville beautiful

Are stricter parking rules needed on neighborhood streets? Town says no; some residents say yes

by Meghan Neal

So you've got yourself a beautiful home with a striking view, on the perfect little road. At least, you thought it was perfect. Turns out the family next door stores junk in the yard and parks their four cars on the street all day and night because they've converted their garage to a living room.

"It's people not thinking about the ramifications of their neighbors," said Lynn Just, a Paraiso Drive homeowner who's fed up with the condition of her street.

"People only care about themselves. Unfortunately, then you're held hostage to the people you live next to," she went on. "It's an 'I, me' world and it's all about 'me.'"

You can't choose your neighbors

At last month's Morning with the Mayor, an informal gathering for residents to share their thoughts on town issues, Just raised a concern shared by several homeowners in Danville.

"The biggest issue," she explained, "is most people aren't parking in their driveways. They're parking in the street - which really makes it look bad."

People park on the street for a few reasons. Some use their garage for living space or storage instead of parking. Others want to show off their handsomely landscaped driveways. And some families, particularly in an affluent town, own three or four cars and have nowhere else to put them.

As a professional decorator, Just visits homes all over town and says she often sees cars blocking the street, scattered debris and beautiful houses next door to ugly ones. She worries things have gone downhill since she moved here 22 years ago.

"It's really starting to look like Dublin and Oakland. And that's not a positive. And it doesn't help the value of your home," she said.

But Town Manager Joe Calabrigo said he's not too concerned with property values in Danville - there's a lot of pride in home ownership here. With the average price for a house pushing $1 million, people aren't going to invest that kind of money and then not take care of their home, he reasoned.

"Property values are so high that there's this overwhelming tendency on the part of residents to maintain their property in order to maintain those values," he said.

However, property value isn't the only issue at play.

Barbara Kendig's chief concern is safety. She lives off the cul-de-sac at the end of Paraiso Drive, where street parking is particularly out of control; people have been illegally parking perpendicular to the curb in order to fit more cars in.

She said when the road is lined with cars on both sides - sometimes even double parked - it's hard to see incoming traffic, which is dangerous for children playing outside.

Fire safety is also a biggie. If there was a fire in a Paraiso home the fire trucks wouldn't be able to get to it, neighbors say, adding that sometimes cars even park in front of fire hydrants.

"My dream would be that we could park in front of our own house if we have company, that the fire engine can reach us if we need it, that the ambulance can go by, that some child doesn't get killed running between cars," Kendig said. "And that people use their driveways and their garages."

NO parking

A number of neighbors are suggesting the town implement a rule prohibiting parking on the street between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The thinking is, it would allow enough leeway to have guests over in the evening but still discourage some people from making the street a permanent home for their cars.

"You really need to have some kind of thing - some rule or ordinance - that there's no parking at certain hours," Kendig said. "It would get people out of the habit of parking in the street. It would force them to park in their driveways."

She said she thinks the rule would have a lot of support from residents. But so far, it hasn't had much from the town. Calabrigo called the request "an overreaction."

"Public streets are just that - public," he said, "which means they're designed so cars can drive on them and cars can park on them."

A "no overnight parking" restriction would pose huge logistical problems, he said, considering there are about 16,000 houses in town.

"We don't have the staff to be sending people out into residential neighborhoods to be enforcing it. We would simply be irritating the vast majority of our residents," he said, noting that people would likely grumble the town wasn't using police resources effectively.

Currently, town code states that cars can't park on the street for more than 72 consecutive hours, and even that limit isn't rigorously enforced.

"It's pretty much complaint-driven," said Lt. Mark Williams of the Danville Police Department.

Police don't troll the roads looking for violators unless an upset resident calls them about it. When they do get a call, they'll chalk the tire of the offending car and leave a notice explaining the violation.

Just said that tactic doesn't work: People will just move their car down the street a few feet and erase the chalk.

"That can happen sometimes, yeah. Then they've complied - they moved it," Williams responded. "It doesn't happen that often."

So how about restricting parking in only certain areas? That's where the homeowners associations come in. HOAs have the power to regulate more strictly than the town, based on each association's specific CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions).

"There are some neighborhoods that absolutely restrict any cars being parked on the street overnight, unless they receive a permit from the HOA," said Mayor Candace Andersen. "I think that's always a good option if someone doesn't feel comfortable with cars on the street."

Keeping Danville beautiful without Big Brother

Lt. Williams pointed out that usually when people have a complaint about parking violations they'll only go to police as a last resort. First they will try to resolve the issue by taking it up directly with their neighbor. Andersen advocates the same approach for any clash over property maintenance.

"I'm a big proponent of neighbors getting to know each other, working together," she said. "I would think people would be cognizant of their neighbors' concerns."

But it's not always that easy. Just said she's tried the one-on-one approach and the response wasn't favorable. Now she would like to see the town step in.

Different towns regulate "beauty" in different ways, and with varying degrees.

Dublin's "anti-ugly" ordinance prohibits clotheslines in front yards, overgrown lawns and graffiti, among other things. San Ramon's neighborhood preservation ordinance says it's a public nuisance to park a vehicle that blocks a sidewalk or street.

Walnut Creek's associate planner Ethan Bindernagel said aesthetic guidelines are left largely in the hands of the design review process; there's been no need for a citywide ordinance.

Danville has a screening rule. Town code states that debris or junk which could potentially reduce the value of the property, or be considered an attractive nuisance, must be screened substantially from adjacent property and from public view.

"Property owners can't actually do whatever they want," said Calabrigo. "Basically, you can't adversely affect the ability of the neighbors to enjoy the use of their property."

A couple years ago the town made its code even stricter, making it illegal to park boats or RVs in plain view. Andersen said the change was controversial.

"A lot of people felt like, 'Well, this is my property,' and we said, 'Fine but you need to screen it. Your neighbors don't want to see it,'" she recalled.

The screening code, like the 72-hour parking rule, is enforced whenever a complaint comes in. Danville's code enforcement officer, Dave Casteel, estimated he gets around 100 calls per year on the subject - one of the heaviest complaint loads.

"Some cities do have stricter ordinances," Casteel said. "And half the population's happy with it and half's not. You want to be able to allow property owners freedom to do what they want to do with their private property. But at the same time, you want the community to uphold property values."

Nevertheless town officials agree there's no need to adopt a stricter code to keep Danville looking nice.

"I'd hate us being the 'anti-ugly police' driving up and down streets saying, 'That's not tolerable, I don't like that one,'" said Andersen. "It's a beautiful town, and I think most people want to keep it that way."