Fear of parking makes neighbors unneighbourly and cities unwalkable.

Gemello Village Gate Debate

Map of the Gemello Village site and Solana Ct
Site of Gemello Village in red, Solana Ct immediately South, Gemello Park in green

In 1997 a multifamily project came before city council: 52 homes to replace a bowling alley. Vehicle access was to be restricted to El Camino Real. But it also included a pedestrian access to Solana Ct. 300 feet down Solana Ct is Gemello park. Planners expected new residents will want to walk to the neighborhood park.

The existing neighbors did not want this.

Solana Ct has 12 homes, all built in 1991. The new homeowners feared their newer neighbors might park on the street. Residents of 11 homes signed a petition to the city not to build any pedestrian access.

On November 12, 1997 the matter was brought before the city council. 1 Existing residents of the neighborhood spoke against having any sort of pedestrian access. Two councilmembers were concerned about the future residents - without the gate the walking distance to the park would be over a half mile. They suggested a locked gate could be a compromise position. The were overruled by their colleagues. Council voted against any pedestrian access.

Final decision on the project was deferred.

On March 16, 1998 the project came back before council.2 The proposed pedestrian access was gone. Instead the developer said they would build a “tot lot” - a tiny park just for the residents, so they would not have to go to the neighborhood park. Not content with this concession, residents pushed council to permanently vacate the city’s access easement, to ensure that no pedestrian access would ever be built in the future. With the easement in place the property owner can ask the Zoning Administrator for an amendment; apply for a modification to their planned community permit.

Council did not agree to vacate the easement. The approved the project with no pedestrian access.

If the proposed “tot lot” was ever built, it is now gone. There are two benches overlooking a tiny barren grass lawn.

a grass rectangle

The property owner has never applied to build pedestrian access.

Parking in the Wrong Places

Families ought to be able to walk to their neighborhood park. But the city chose to prevent it.

A Walkable City Cannot Have Free Parking

Free parking creates perverse incentives, fears, and unneighbourly behavior. The traditional response here in the USA has been to oversupply parking and build walls to ensure people don’t park in the wrong places. Both these make cities less walkable.

For more on this read Walkable City or The High Cost of Free Parking

Future Residents Need A Voice

Current residents of Gemello Village were never given a chance to say how they feel. Two councilmembers recognized that they needed to think of the quality of life of future residents. We need more councilmembers like them.

We Can Do Better

20 years later the Verve Apartments were built across the street. The included a public paseo from El Camino Real to Latham St. This time the walkability of our city was improved.

Having a plan and standards can help the city make the right choice. This year the city is working on a new active transportation plan, which could include standards for public access in new developments.

I am hopeful about the future. But in the meantime I would like to pressure the owner to ask residents if they would like pedestrian access, and then break open this wall

The wall at the end of Solana Ct
Most of those who objected are gone. Let's build some pedestrian access here
  1. Nov 12 1997 Minutes and Staff Report 

  2. March 16 1998 Minutes and Staff Report