When a remodel next door forced the removal of a driveway that John Reed used to transport his daughter, who has a disability, from the car to their home on South Francisca Avenue, life became a whole lot more difficult for them.
His daughter sustained a head injury 22 years ago, at the age of 19, and the system of unloading her on the driveway beside their nearly 100-year-old home, in a historic part of Redondo Beach, had worked for them ever since, Reed said.
But now, Reed often has to park at a commercial business down the street, he said, and push his daughter back to the house up a hill.
The Reed family — John and Jessica Reed, and John’s daughter, Kelly — attended the Redondo Beach City Council meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 4, to get that driveway back, which officials removed in June.
But instead of getting that, the family will have a designated handicap space in front of the house and a path to the sidewalk. It’s a solution that could have happened much earlier, according to Councilmember Nils Nehrenheim, who had harsh words for city staff at the meeting and in an interview Wednesday morning.
“All of this could have been avoided more than a year ago,” Nehrenheim said, “if the staff had been more proactive.”
A remodel to the home of the Reed family’s next door neighbor prompted a code enforcement check by city officials in 2018. Those officials noticed that the driveway — which residents had used for years to pull into their backyards — was in the public right-of-way and did not lead to a garage or other area designated specifically for parking. That violated city law.
So officials opted to remove it entirely.
When John Reed first heard the driveway would be removed in November 2018, he said, he wrote a two-page letter to city officials explaining how much they depended on the driveway. He followed up the letter with an email, phone calls and later met with city officials, Nehrenheim said.
Sometime in December of that year, Reed, his neighbors and city officials held a meeting.
Nehrenheim said the neighbors were fine with keeping the driveway, which straddles the two properties, but city officials were determined to follow the municipal code and remove the driveway since it no longer led to a garage or a parking area. Reed heard no other news about the driveway, until six months later — when he heard the jackhammers outside his house.
“No one ever bothered to call me, email me, text me or knock on my door,” Reed told the council Tuesday night. “The city completely ignored it until the day I heard the jackhammers.”
Both Nehrenheim and Mayor Bill Brand accused city staff of not responding to the Reed family quickly enough or offering the council workable solutions.
“Staff should have taken care of this a long time ago,” Brand said. “If you saw this coming, you should have come to us before the concrete got poured.”
The situation caused tensions to flair during discussions Tuesday between Nehrenheim and City Attorney Mike Webb. The two got into a shouting match at one point during the public meeting, as Nehrenheim disrupted Webb’s explanation for why the driveway couldn’t simply be replaced.
Following the exchange, the two apologized for raising their voices. Webb still took exception to Nehrenheim’s suggestion that staff wasn’t trying to solve the problems of residents. City officials met with the Reeds to discuss various options, Webb said, but none were agreed to. That’s when Reed decided to take the matter to the City Council, Webb said.
“I was sticking up for staff because they really have been trying to work on this,” Webb said. “Everyone in this room wants what’s best for Kelly and the Reeds, but we see different impediments to each of the approaches.”
City officials offered various reasons why they couldn’t reinstall the driveway, such as its placement straddling the two property lines and current regulations that prohibited “driveways to nowhere.”
Public Works Director Ted Semaan suggested that a new driveway could possibly lead visually impaired individuals into a hazard. Staff proposed certain changes to the municipal code, but those were fraught with unintended consequences, they said, such as possibly encouraging abuse if others were to install driveways simply to carve out a parking space.
City Councilmember Todd Loewenstein said it came down to a simple principle of good government.
“We are here to make life better for our residents, not to set up road blocks,” Loewenstein said. “I personally think we can make exceptions to allow these sorts of things for people with disabilities.”
In the end, the panel decided on a 4-to-1 vote, with Councilmember Laura Emdee opposed, to install a handicap parking space with a path to the sidewalk in front of their house — an idea led by Councilmember Christian Horvath — and another handicap spot down the street. There will also be some amendments proposed to the municipal code that will allow driveways to nowhere in rare exceptions.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a start,” said Brand, who promised to revisit the matter in May.
Reed said he wasn’t exactly pleased with the solution. He considered a handicap designated parking space before, Reed said, but worried that either the space would get taken by someone else with a placard or the designated space would limit his ability to park on the street when his daughter was away, since they only have a single placard.
“It worked for 22 years to take care of my disabled daughter,” Reed said of the system he had. “If anyone thinks they can figure out a solution right here, they don’t know. I have lived the life. I didn’t like the options. I said I wanted the (driveway) back.”
On Wednesday morning, Semaan and other city employees were outside Reed’s home preparing the work.
Editor’s note: Redondo Beach officials removed a driveway on South Francisca Avenue in June. Because of a reporting error, the year in which officials removed the driveway was incorrect in a previous version of this story. The article has been updated.