Naked City

Keep Off the Grass

As of Sept. 9, it will be officially illegal to park your car in your front or side yard in some, but not all, Austin neighborhoods. The City Council approved the ordinance Aug. 29, after two years of work by the North Austin Civic Association and other neighborhood groups, city staff, and Council Members Danny Thomas and Betty Dunkerley. Out of more than 200 neighborhood associations registered with the city, 64 have opted to be included on the "restricted parking area map."

How that opting-in works was the focus of last-minute discussions, revisions, and attempted changes from the dais. Take notes: Neighborhood associations hoping to become lawn-parking-free must send a request to City Hall, accompanied by an "official certification" that members voted on the matter according to their bylaws or standard voting process. This requires the NA's official notice of the meeting where the vote took place, an agenda, lists of people (with addresses) who voted for and against, and other quasi-legal paraphernalia that go beyond many NAs' usual, casual procedures. Neighborhood groups are supposed to file all this paperwork in February, with the City Council set to vote in April to renew the 64 areas currently on the map and make changes. Areas that undergo the neighborhood planning process will decide their lawn-parking status in their final plans; City Hall is hoping that process will catch up to everyone within three years. If it doesn't, NAs that haven't been planned but want to keep cars off lawns must reapply.

These efforts at procedural hygiene didn't convince Council Members Daryl Slusher and Raul Alvarez, who, noting that NAs often don't get much participation, suggested the city require petitions from 20% of affected property owners. "I would just be more comfortable if I knew that at least one of every five people ... had actually agreed to this regulation," Alvarez said. Earlier in the lawn-parking saga, Slusher noted, a letter from two leaders of a Far South Austin neighborhood was all it took to get an estimated 10,000 residences covered by the map. A petition requirement in earlier ordinance proposals was dropped -- and Alvarez's attempted amendment rejected -- out of concern for the extra burden this would impose on city staff.

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