Council looks at head-in parking

Seal Beach creates exception for beach lots in 3-2 vote

File photo

On Monday, July 26, the Seal Beach City Council voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance to create an exemption to the city’s requirement that cars park head-in only. The exception will apply to the beach parking lots only.

The staff report requested that the council either approve the exception or give staff direction for an alternative.

Seal Beach Police Chief Phil Gonshak told the council that 20 out of 50 states don’t require front plates on cars.

He also said there was no DMV approved training for people to park by backing into a stall.

On May 24, District Two Councilman Thomas Moore asked for the issue to be discussed at a future council meeting, according to the staff report by SBPD Support Services Capt. Michael Ezroj.

At the July 26 council meeting, Councilman Moore asked if the only purpose of the head-in-only parking requirement was to ensure license plate readers could read the plates.

Gonshak said he wouldn’t say that was the primary reason, but it was definitely part of the reason.

Moore thanked Gonshak for his presentation of the staff report.

However, Moore said he thought Seal Beach was a community-oriented city. He said the city had received many emails because of the head-in parking requirement.

Apparently some visitors have said they will not return to Seal Beach because of the citations they have received over head-in parking. Councilman Moore said he would like to follow the spirt of the law. He expressed concern that following the letter of the law was harming the community.

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic said she visited the beach lots last Saturday. She described the signs announcing the head in parking requirement as “a little small.”

Sustarsic said she was dismayed by some of the letters the city had received. She said she didn’t know the answer.

District Three Councilman Michael Varipapa said he was reluctant to change anything at this time. He said the city’s main concern should be safety. He also expressed concern that solving one issue could create other issues.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt agreed with him. She said she was reluctant to change the parking lot for what she called five people a year who might be unhappy.

Varipapa, who is now retired, said that in his job he had to visit a lot of cities. He said he thought head-in parking was more common than not.

District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick suggested looking at the visibility and placement of the head-in-only parking signs.

Chief Gonshak said he had thought to make the head-in signs yellow.

Kalmick suggested alternate direction to staff to do a more extensive survey of the signs.

But Moore expressed the opinion that more signs were not the answer.

Moore also described the safety issue as questionable.

Moore moved to approve the new parking ordinance.

Kalmick, Moore, and Sustarsic voted in favor of the ordinance.

Varipapa and Massa-Lavitt voted no.

As stated above, the city code requires head-in parking. The reason, according to the Ezroj report, is so that Automated License Plate Readers can read the plates.

“It should be noted that people from across the nation visit the City, and many states do not require a front license plate like the State of California requires under California Vehicle Code 5200(a),” Ezroj wrote.

“As a result of this adoption, the City placed a total of thirty-six (36) signs, twelve (12) in each beach lot which state ‘Head in Parking Only,’” Ezroj wrote.

“The signs are posted at the single point of entry for each lot, as well as at each pay station and at various posts throughout each parking lot,” Ezroj wrote.

“The City spent $13,550 for parking curbs to prevent pulling forward and to limit backing into stalls. Enforcement officially began taking place in October 2019 once the signs were in highly visible places in each of the beach parking lots,” Ezroj wrote.

“From October 2019 to June 2021, a total of 4,128 citations were issued for Seal Beach Municipal Code (SBMC) 8.20.015 Head in Parking Only,” Ezroj wrote.

According to Ezroj, citations for head-in parking “equate to $260,608 in fines.” Ezroj also wrote that since 2018, the Seal Beach Police Department has responded to seven car collisions in the beach lots.

“Of those seven (7) collisions, one (1) collision was the result of unsafe backing as a subject attempted to reverse in order to get into a parking stall” Ezroj wrote. “The cause of the remaining collisions was the result of drunk drivers or hit and run accidents.”

According to Ezroj’s report, head-in parking is required in Oceanside, Laguna Beach, Paso Robles, San Leandro, El Segundo, and Santa Monica.

“In addition, as cities move to ALPR technology, they are also moving to head in parking regulations,” Ezroj wrote.