“It’s not my favorite way of life”: where night-time motorhomes can be and when are deadlocked in city discussions
Ron lives on Delaware Avenue, in a row of RVs and trailers, in his 31-foot-long RV. The self-proclaimed “local native”, 68, has been walking around the Natural Bridges area for a few months, but has been living in the RV since 2016.
“It’s not my favorite way of life,” said Ron, who asked to keep his last name anonymous. “That’s what I did in an emergency, and the emergency turned into a long-term affair.”
Ron said he previously owned a home in Ben Lomond and worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley for almost 30 years. But he lost everything in 2013 after his wife died, and he went bankrupt after his retirement funds collapsed amid the recession. He bought a motorhome to live in, thinking it would be temporary, but even with a Section 8 housing voucher, he hasn’t been able to find affordable housing for years.
“I want to be on the sidelines,” he said. “I don’t want to be a problem for anyone.”
But Ron lives in one of the 65 or so oversized vehicles that frequent the Lower Westside, which puts him in the crosshairs of a growing mess among neighborhood groups, housing advocates and the municipal government on where vehicle inhabitants can park safely and legally overnight.
In 2020, Delaware Avenue and Natural Bridges Drive saw by far the city’s highest number of vehicle downsizing cases, and neighbors are unhappy, citing parking, sanitation and safety concerns. After what Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills described as decades of community complaints, city council may finally ban RV parking – with a few exceptions.
“The goal of the ordinance is balance,” said Mills, referring to the need for both compassion and responsibility.
In a special meeting on Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council introduced amendments to an ordinance that would ban all parking for oversized vehicles on any public thoroughfare, street, lane or city parking lot between midnight and 5 a.m. unless the vehicle has a specific permit from the city, among other exemptions. The ordinance would also call for expanding the city’s safe parking options, where RVers could park for free at night.
“We’re really trying to make this a win-win for everyone in the community,” board member Renee Golder said at the meeting.
Golder, along with Deputy Mayor Sonja Brunner and Councilor Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, advanced the conversation, which stems from the the city’s political discussions on camping last spring. Brunner said council members also hoped to reconsider a similar 2015 ordinance, which banned overnight parking for oversized vehicles between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. – without offering a permit system or safe parking program.
In 2016, the California Coastal Commission appealed the order, noting the city’s failure to provide alternative parking solutions and data.
This time around, the city braced for court challenges from the commission: it proposed delaying enforcement of the ordinance until the city has expanded its permit program or created a secure parking program. equivalent in the county. For both of these options, the vehicles must have been registered in Santa Cruz for at least six months – a point several council members and homeless advocates have pointed out as a potential barrier for the homeless community.
On top of that, advocates say that just paying for registration can be a barrier.
“These people live in poverty and often cannot afford to register,” Kayla Kumar, local organizer and former city council candidate, told Lookout.
As currently proposed, permits for persons qualified as “residents” would be valid for one year and would allow the parking of oversized vehicles for four periods of up to 72 consecutive hours per calendar month. This means that people could legally park overnight on the streets for 12 days per month. Permit prices have not yet been determined.
The proposed ordinance applies to oversized vehicles over 20 feet in length and 8 feet in height, reducing the permitted length by five feet.
City officials hope to complement this program with an expanded secure parking program, which is currently run by the Association of Faith Communities. Currently, the AFC offers 15 parking spaces in the city – most of which are at religious sites – as well as 21 spaces outside the city, such as in Aptos.
Reverend Joseph Jacobs, director of AFC’s SafeSpaces program, noted during the meeting that the city had never sponsored the safe parking program. He said the city had previously told him there was no funding available for SafeSpaces, and he questioned where the funding for the program would come from.
Kalantari-Johnson said the city is also in discussions with county partners to identify parking spots in unincorporated areas.
Homelessness issues “often uniquely reveal the divisions in our community,” Kumar said. Most members of the public who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting agreed: they said they viewed the proposed ordinance as inhumane and an attempt by the city to criminalize homelessness.
Speaking with people living in RVs on Delaware Street, Lookout found that some had already paid over $ 1,000 in parking tickets, often getting more than one in a single night. Since January, the police department said it had received 2,456 calls about recreational vehicles or abandoned vehicles. The SCPD issued warnings to 294 recreational vehicles, saying they must move within 72 hours, and towed about 12 of them, the department reported.
“Why are they treating us like this? Ron asked. “Have mercy on the homeless. We are also people. We are not drug addicts. We are not criminals. We are just unlucky people.
A representative from Santa Cruz Cares, formerly known as Westside Cares, told council: “You have chosen to tow, ticket and distribute torts to people who are not financially able to comply with this policy. , directly creating more homeless homelessness. “
But many Westside owners have told a different story.
“As a father, it’s hard to hear my kids say they’re afraid to walk down the street,” said Manuel, a representative for Westside Neighbors who did not provide his last name.
In particular, a report from the city and members of the public highlighted sanitation issues, saying residents of RVs were dumping sewage into streets and storm sewers.
The report states, “One of the most common issues raised with prolonged parking of oversized vehicles is the release of raw sewage into city streets and into storm sewers.
Some people living in RVs told Lookout this is a myth, while others admitted that it happens occasionally.
At Tuesday’s meeting, city staff reported that an RV dump site at 1220 River Street is still under review following a 2020 recommendation from the city’s Community Homelessness Advisory Committee. .
One of the most common issues raised with prolonged parking of oversized vehicles is the discharge of raw sewage into city streets and into storm sewers.
– City report
“The current conditions are unsanitary and dangerous and by no means compassionate to anyone,” wrote community member Samantha Petovello.
The city has received around 400 letters both in favor and in opposition to the proposed ordinance, although public participation at Tuesday’s 8 p.m. meeting was disappointing.
Council member Justin Cummings pleaded for allowing the public as much feedback as possible before the council makes decisions.
“I think what we really need to do is show that there is a diverse and inclusive community process that really gives people enough time to weigh in,” he said.
Ultimately, the council voted to allow more time for public comment on the ordinance at its October 26 meeting. He also voted in favor of the mayor’s creation of a subcommittee to work with staff to further explore options for a safe parking program.