Pasadena Mechanic Sues City Over Parking Space Regulation Prohibiting His Business from Operating

A mechanic in Pasadena has been prohibited from opening his new storefront due to a dispute with the city over its parking space regulation.
December 14, 2021
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Azael Sepulveda has been ordered by the City of Pasadena to build a parking lot he will not use nor can afford, according to a new lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ).

Sepulveda, a mechanic, bought a storefront earlier this year to expand his business, Oz Mechanics, beyond the rental property he’d been leasing. But the City of Pasadena has a minimum parking ordinance that requires him to provide at least 28 parking spaces.

“I’ve put everything on the line to grow my business and provide for my family,” Azael said in a statement. “I’ve operated with a handful of parking spaces for years and had no problem. Now the city is stopping me from achieving my dream and threatening to put me out of business.”

The property already has five, but the city will not allow him to operate out of the new storefront without meeting the off-street parking metric. To build the lot in compliance, it’d cost Sepulveda $40,000 on top of what he’s already spent to purchase the property.

IJ is a nonprofit that provides pro bono counsel on issues generally related to regulatory occupational barriers. IJ was involved in the occupational licensing lawsuit from 2015 challenging the imprisonment of a Houston hair braider who was jailed for failing to keep up with barbering regulations.

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The City of Pasadena’s off-street parking code requires 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet, and is among the most cumbrous in the state and across the nation. It’s stricter than each of Texas’ five most-populated cities.

“This minimum parking requirement is pointless and expensive, and it threatens to ruin Azael’s small business,” said IJ Law and Liberty Fellow Tori Clark.

“All Texans, including Azael, should be able to start their own business without jumping through hoops that serve no purpose. This minimum parking ordinance isn’t just harmful to small business owners; it also violates the Texas Constitution.”

Pasadena is a mid-size town with a population of over 153,000. Off-street parking ordinances are intended to reduce clutter on streets and allow customers better ease of access to the businesses they’re patronizing.

But IJ and those who share their beliefs say the ordinances are often wasteful of both money and space.

“These laws are not a proper use of a city’s police and zoning authorities, and the Texas Supreme Court has recognized that similar regulations on economic activity are unconstitutional,” said IJ attorney Diana Simpson.

Rather than building more concrete flatlands, opponents of these policies say the land would be better used to build other businesses or to be made into public greenspaces.

To purchase his new storefront, Sepulveda paid out all of his savings and took out a loan on his house. He says he does not have $40,000 to spare.

Sepulveda’s recently purchased storefront. (Photo Courtesy of Institute for Justice)

His shop, meanwhile, operates by appointment only which reduces the amount of walk-in foot traffic at any given time. To discourage customers from leaving their cars at his lot after it’s been serviced, Sepulveda says he charges a service fee.

According to the filing, over three weeks a few months ago, Sepulveda averaged fewer than two cars per day outside his shop. His busiest day had four.

Since 1990, Houston Engine and Balancing Service operated out of the storefront Sepulveda purchased and “never had any complaints or problems associated with having only five outdoor parking spaces.”

On top of this, his new shop has double the in-shop auto spaces — going from two to four. The current lot, the filing says, could fit as many as 10 outdoor parking spaces without adding a second lot if reconfigured — making a total parking capacity of 14, half of what the city currently requires.

Sepulveda said that he applied for an exemption from the Department of Planning, which was dismissed out of hand by the city. “Officials never explained their rationale and refused to meet with him or his attorneys,” reads the IJ release.

According to the filing, Deanna Schmidt, the director of the Department of Planning, encouraged Sepulveda to apply for the exemption. But she has since refused to reply to the mechanic’s counsel save for one response on November 1, saying, “Good morning; I will speak with the City Attorney as his schedule allows.”

“The city’s public records also show that Azael’s variance application has never been considered by either the Planning and Zoning Commission or the City Council,” the filing adds.

Sepulveda continues to operate his business at the leased property, paying $1,200 per month in rent on top of the monthly loan he took out to finance a storefront he is prohibited from using.

The lawsuit asks the court to allow him to operate in the new property, declaring the city’s parking requirement a due process violation for both Sepulveda and for auto repair shops generally. It also alleges that the policy violates the Equal Protection clause, treating mechanic shops differently than other “similarly situated businesses” like auto dealers, banks, and hotels.

Those establishments, and others, have lower parking requirements than mechanic shops.

In all, Sepulveda’s suit suggests he finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: shutter his new storefront and lose his nest egg investment or pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

The City of Pasadena declined to comment on the litigation.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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