Déjà vu all over again: legal opinion sought on West U corner sidewalk parking

By Charlotte Aguilar

Could West University’s long-debated sidewalk parking policy — in particular, involving corner residential lots — be in violation of state law or federal disability law compliance? Finding out is the new charge from City Council to City Attorney Alan Petrov.

“It could be a liability,” was Petrov’s initial response to council Monday night.

The city’s politely-named Parking Etiquette program was on the agenda at the behest of Councilmember Brennan Reilly and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly. The item largely consisted of a review of the program’s evolution (a bit murky, it turns out) and effectiveness (proven, according to statistics) from Public Works Director Dave Beach, with Police Chief Ken Walker on hand to answer questions about police enforcement. (A copy of Beach’s summary is available here.)

Sidewalk parking is actually only one of four components addressed by the parking etiquette program, which in many cases is a three-strike system with two warnings before a citation is issued — guided by the Golden Rule, according to the program’s website.

The city’s Code Enforcement Officer Daniel Paripovich is “pro-active” in locating and responding to reports of violation during his 40-hour work week, reported Beach, with police handling enforcement nights and weekends.

The program also covers such things as parking in restricted zones, parking too close to stop signs and hydrants, and blocking driveways, exceeding 72-hour limits or facing in the wrong direction.

But for nearly two decades, it has been sidewalk parking that has taken center stage in West U.

And Reilly made it clear that, although he said he also hears complaints from constituents “constantly,” the issue is a personal one: He has an eight-year-old daughter who is permanently wheelchair-bound. Often when he encounters illegal sidewalk parkers and must push his daughter into the street, “Frankly, they’re unapologetic,” he said.

What drew the councilmember’s focus eventually, though, was the city’s policy allowing some parking forgiveness to older homes on corner lots with short driveways. In 2008 that was updated to require new construction of corner homes to include a “dipped” wraparound sidewalk to permit smooth passage of those using the sidewalks.

Citing Section 545.302 of the Texas Transportation CodeWU council-web — the state law governing parking — along with the Americans With Disabilities Act, Reilly suggested that West U could be violating both with its policy. After Petrov acknowledged that possibility, the council agreed on further investigation without a formal vote.

It also came to light, after questioning by Reilly, that there appeared to be no formal council vote to establish the Parking Etiquette Program in 2012. After two town hall meetings on the topic and a traffic engineering study, City Manager Chris Peifer said the program was “not acted on but agreed to” by council.