Residents like to think they own the street in front of their houseBy DEREK J. MOORETHE PRESS DEMOCRATSaturday, March 29, 2008
On Vallejo Street in central Santa Rosa, a curious sign posted on a tree reads, "Parking for 1703 is across the street."
The sign reflects an ongoing parking dispute between neighbors in the pleasant subdivision near Brook Hill Elementary School.Never mind that Vallejo Street is a public thoroughfare, where anyone can park outside certain restrictions, such as the vehicle type and how long it stays.Legality aside, many people believe the street outside their homes to be reserved for their parking use only. And they can get mighty upset if someone dares violate that unwritten code."A person's home is their private domain, and people feel that way about their parking space in front of their house," said Cecilia Wilson, volunteer coordinator for Recourse Mediation Services, a Santa Rosa nonprofit agency that handles neighborhood disputes."When somebody infringes upon that, it's on the same level as a personal attack, like your private territory is being invaded."Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii dubbed Dr. Driving because of his expertise on the subject of road rage and related issues, calls it a problem affecting "millions.""It's one of the little hassles of life that's very disturbing," he said.A parking dispute has taken center stage in the vandalism trial of Sebastopol City Councilwoman Linda Kelley, who prosecutors allege keyed a pickup outside her home because she considered the spot where the truck was parked to be hers.Kelley has denied the allegation.The case spotlights a common concern. More people than would care to admit harbor resentment at the sight of a vehicle that is not their own taking up space outside their home.Many believe that act violates the neighborly code that says the street outside a residence should be for that person and their guests.This applies more to suburban locales, where parking is often not the problem that it is in big cities, where people fight for whatever space they can find.Some view it as a matter of fairness. If your neighbors have so many vehicles that they can't fit them all in their garage or in the driveway, why should they take up the space in front of your abode?That appears to be one of the issues involved in the Vallejo Street standoff.Mark Davidson, who lives at 1703 Vallejo and is currently collecting unemployment, said he sometimes is forced to park vehicles on the street because he works on cars in his driveway. Two more cars occupy the garage.His neighbors across the street have sent letters to his landlord, who happens to be Davidson's father, complaining about the parking situation.Davidson said that in addition to the sign, the neighbors have left messages on his vehicles and those of friends saying they should be parked across the street."I think it's tacky. It's not their street," he said.The neighbors declined comment.Davidson admitted he left his sister's car parked in the contested spot for three days after the sign went up just to irritate the neighbors.But he insisted he's not done anything beyond that provocation and said he tries not to park there for more than an hour at a time.He was not receptive, however, to a reporter's suggestion that he create more space in his driveway as a way of breaking the impasse."There's plenty of room for neighbors to park here," he said.Acts of vandalism related to parking disputes are rare, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Eric Litchfield said.He said most complaints police get are due to recreational vehicles, boats or other large vehicles taking up space on streets."I don't blame them," he said of angered residents. "You've got a 23-foot RV taking up four spots, plus it's sticking 8 feet out," he said.Wilson said she's fielded phone calls at the mediation service from people who are irate about parking issues with their neighbors.She recalled one man in particular complaining about a neighbor who parked all of his vehicles on the street to leave his driveway free.As with any dispute, Wilson said, resolving the issue is not a matter of who's legally right or wrong, but about getting the aggrieved parties to see the other person's point of view."That is really the basis of mediation, getting people to see how their actions are affecting somebody else. A lot of times, people have no idea," she said.The layout of Sebastopol's Eleanor Avenue, where Kelley lives, requires residents to try to get along.Some homes on the narrow street near Palm Drive Hospital don't have driveways or garages, forcing people to spread out."If you go there really early in the morning or late at night, man, there is no place to park," said Bill Anstead, who lives on the street and owns a local market. "I'm fortunate. I have two driveways and two garages where I park six cars."James, author of "Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare," said people can easily lose control if they let their feelings of anger and entitlement spiral out of control."You have to stop ruminating. That's the first rule," he said.James said he sees nothing wrong with discussing the issue with a neighbor, so long as it's done in a tactful way."If it doesn't work out, at least you are able to give it up more easily than if you hadn't tried," he said.
Jim W Hildreth-Mediator