The Justice Department, claiming that air pollution control could be hampered, yesterday joined Arlington County in asking the Supreme Court to decide whether local ordinances barring commuter parking are constitutional.
At the urging the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department filled a friend of the court brief asking the high court to review a decision by the Virginia State Supreme Court striking down a prohibition on commuter parking in a residential neighborhood adjoining Crystal City.
Similar ordinances have been adopted and challenged in cities and counties across the country, including the District of Columbia and Montgomery County. The Arlington case is the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to review the issue.
A decision by the high court to take the case could determine the outcome of parking ordinances in Boston, Wilmington, Del., San Francisco, Richmond, Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere.
The Virginia Supreme Court held in January that the Arlington ordinance, which allowed residents of the Aurora Highlands neighborhood to park, but barred commuters was unconstitutional. Because it created two classes of parkers, it violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the court ruled unanimously.
If allowed to stand, the decision "would affect the ability of states and localities to meet the goals established by Congress in the Clean Air Amendments of 1970," according to Justice brief.
"The state (of Virginia) and its subdivisions will be required to find new pollution control strategies, and the new strategies may be more costly or more disruptive than the restriction on nonresident parking," Justice lawyers said.
The ordinance in question was adopted by Arlington in May, 1974, and approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in November, 1974. EPA at the time called it "a reasoned approach to address, among other community needs, degrading air quality due to excessive commuter parking." Opponents of the ordinance have scoffed at the idea that the ordinance was designed to clean up air pollution, but EPA has consistently supported it as useful for that purpose.
"Part of the purpose of the ordinance was that by restricting the availability of commuter parking you could improve air quality by forcing commuters into public transportation or into car pools," said an EPA attorney who drafted arguments in favor of U.S. participation in the case.
Only one other state supreme court has ruled on an ordinance similar to Arlington's. The Massachusetts State Supreme Court held recently that a Cambridge parking regulation was constitutional.
Cases are pending on the constitutionality of both the D.C. and Montgomery County residential parking programs.
While the Arlington ordinance has been in dispute, the county and residents of Aurora Highlands have developed other strategies for dealing with parking problems in the neighborhood, causing mainly by government workers whose offices are in nearby Crystal City.
Complicated parking regulations now prohibit parking by anyone for differing one-hour periods on some streets.