The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Arlington County and other local governments here and across the nation may forbid commuter parking in residential neighborhoods.
In an unsigned opinion, the judges said that commuter parking bans, sought by residents who want to keep commuters from taking all the parking spaces in their spaces in their neighborhoods, are reasonable means to fight air pollution and to encourage car pools and the use of public transportation.
The Court's ruling was welcomed yesterday by local officials in the Washington area, who said it would likely lead to a rapid proliferation of commuter parking restrictions here, especially around Metro stations and in close-in suburbs.
The justices overruled the Virginia Supreme Court, which had decided that the Arlington parking ban un-constitutionally discriminated against commuters. That decision had clouded other attempts to restrict commuter parking in D.C., Montgomery County and other cities across the country.
"I expect we will move soon to implement our ordinance," said Arlington County Board Chairman Joseph Wholey. Wholey said that he expects the parking restrictions to spread from the neighborhood near Crystal City, where they were imposed before the Virginia Supreme Court struck them down to other neighborhoods near Rosslyn and around other subway stops as they open.
"We're very pleased," Wholey said.
"We are delighted," said Montgomery county Council member Norman Christeller. He said that the Council had used the same logic the Court did in overriding a veto of parking restrictions by Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason in 1974. Parking restrictions in Montgomery County have been stalled by a lower court ruling that the restrictions there were unconstitutional and by a lack of enforcement. "We will now pursue the question in the county," said Cristeller.
The only local commuter parking ordinance that had survived a court test previously is the D.C. law. This limits commuter parking to two hours in residential neighborhoods that adopt a parking permit program. A D.C. Superior Court judge said in June that the District's law was constitutional. This triggered the rapid spread or parking prohibitions in the city. That spread is not likely to be further hastened by yesterday's ruling, said D.C. Transportation Director Douglas N. Schneider Jr., "but it sure makes us feel a lot better."
The reaction of local officials and residents of the neighborhood that sought a ban on commuter parking was predictably favorable to the court decision. At the same time, the reaction of commuters shut out of their free parking spots was predictably unhappy.
"I think it's a very sad ruling. It's really a very sad day for freedom in America," said Henry Itkin, a Navy Department employee in Crystal City, who raised $3,500 from other commuters to hire a lawyer to argue against commuter bans when Arlington County took the case to the Supreme Court.
"It just means that all the little local governments can do anything they want," Itkin said.
What the Court did was to nullify a unanimous Virginia Supreme Court ruling that the Arlington County ordinance was a violation of commuters' constitutionally guaranteed right to equal protection under the law. The Court noted that a preamble to the Arlington ordinance sets goals for the measure that include the protection of residential neighborhoods from air and noise pollution, the preservation on the value of peoperty and the protection of the personal safety of children and other pedestrians. The Court said, "The Constitution does not outlaw these social and environmental objecives."
Because the parking ban has appears designed to meet the stated objectives and because the Constitution does not "presume distincions between residents and nonresidents of a local neighborhood to be invidous." the Arlington ordinance "on its face" meets the constitutional test, the Court said.
Laws similar to Arlington's have been adopted by Atlanta, Baltimore, San Francisco, Boston, and Cambridge, Mass. Wilmington. Del., Richmond and Charlottesville. Va. and other cities.
In this area, neighborhoods that seek to ban commuter parking must prove that congestion exists or that mass transit is available to commuters, or both.
The Arlington case began in 1972, when the County Board adopted a restriction on commuter parking aimed at reducing congestion in the Aurora-Highlands neighborhood near Crystal City. That ordinance was immediately challenged.
"We've been saying the same thing (in defense of the commuter parking lans) for five years, and we've been slapped down," said Arlington Deputy County Attorney Charles Flinn, who pursued the case for Arlington. The parking ordinance was revised in 1974, with an eye towards fending off legal challenges, but the challenges continued up to the Virginia Supreme Court.
"I'm so glad they ruled in favor of the people who live here," said Aurora-Highlands resident Alice Caito, rejoicing over the U.S. Supreme Court decision yesterday.
Caito and other residents said they had watched their neighborhood change for the worse with the advent of Crystal City, a huge complex of office buildings and hotels along U.S. Rte. 1. Office workers from the building began to line up bumper to bumper in the mornings, competing for parking spaces along formerly peaceful residential streets, they said. Residents complained of air pollution, trash dumped from cars and commuters who drove over curbs and lawns. They said they had to struggle to park in front of their own homes,
On the other hand, commuters argued that they had few other places to park and no workable public transportation. Besides, they said, their tax dollars paid for the streets, so they should be able to park on them. "The streets belong to the people," argued one lawyer who opposed parking restrictions.
The Arlington parking ban made it a misdimeanor for anyone without a permit to park in a restricted area on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5p.m. After the ban was struck down, the county and neighborhood homeowners developed an alternate solution.
Complicated parking regulations were adopted for some streets, with parking prohibited on one side from 11 a.m. to noon and prohibited to the other side from noon to 1 p.m. The "switch-side" parking restrictions have been successful at discouraging commuter parking, but have also imposed some burden on people who live on the streets who don't have off street parking. They have to move their cars at least once aduring the workday.
In Montgomery county, a county ordinance had limited parking in one 25-square-block area of East Bethesda. That ordinance had been held unconstitutional earlier this year by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge, who dismissed a parking ticket given for a violation of the ordinance. The ordinance was not struck down, but has not been enforced since that ruling.
Christellerr said that he expected the parking ban now may be implemented in central business districts, near subway stops and in other areas where government action had created traffic congestion.
The D.C. parking ban covers the neighborhoods of Walter Reed, Friendship Heights, Gateway, Pleasant Park, Glover Park, Burleith, Foxhall Village, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and Sheridan-Kalorama. It was expanded to cover parts of Capitol Hill on Oct. 3. Ultimately the restrictions are expected to effect 10,000 automobiles, said Schneider.
The Justice Department had joined Arlington County in urging that the commuter-parking restrictions be upheld. Solicitor General Wade H. McCree Jr. had warned that the Virginia decision, if allowed to stand, would require the states and their political subdivisions "to find new pollution control strategies, and the new strategies may be more costly or more disruptive than was the restriction on non resident parking."