June 20, 2007
Keep (your car) off the grass

Is it just me, or does anybody else have a Jeff Foxworthy moment in reading this story?

A proposed city law would make it illegal to park in your front yard. But if you simply slapped down some pavement over the grass, then it would be fine.

The draft ordinance, which is still being tweaked, shows how difficult it is to regulate a practice that some call a private right, and others consider a communal eyesore.

"We have people who park three to four vehicles in their front yard, vehicles that are not running, or people who run a mechanic's shop out of their yard," said City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado of District I. "There is overwhelming support for this (ordinance) from my civic associations."

Supporters of the ban claim that cars parked in yards depress property values, leak oil and fluids into the soil, and damage grass, trees and buried utility lines.


The proposed law would apply only to single-family homes and duplexes. It also has a loophole you can literally drive through: a provision allowing property owners to install a parking pad on their front lawn. The extra surface could be concrete, asphalt, gravel or other material and could measure up to 275 square feet, enough to park two cars. The exception is a compromise for smaller or older homes, which may have short driveways or none at all, Lawrence said.

But critics say that encouraging people to pave over part of their front yard to get around the ban might only make the problem worse.

"Just dumping shell or some stuff -- will that be any better than parking in the front yard?" asked Councilman Adrian Garcia.

According to Christof, the answer to that question is "No".

According to this study and this study by the University of Texas' Center for Research in Water Resources, the most effective technology for cleaning urban runoff is grass:

The effectiveness of grassy swales for treating highway runoff was evaluated by comparing the runoff at Walnut Creek, before and after passing across a swale. The grassy swale proved effective for reducing the concentrations of most constituents in runoff. The low runoff coefficient due to infiltration of runoff into the swale produced a large reduction (90%) in pollutant load discharged.

In other words, parking cars on grass is not a pollution problem; it's a way to reduce pollution.

The city of Houston has taken great strides in improving its air quality. Let's not take a step backwards when it comes to water pollution.

Beyond that, I confess I've no strong feelings about this proposal either way. I confess, I'm not sure why deed restrictions are insufficient, as one proponent says. All things being equal, I'd say they're probably the best remedy, and if there's a gap in their capabilities then let Council address that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 20, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles