Quick Take:

An ordinance banning oversized vehicles from parking on Santa Cruz streets from midnight through 5 a.m. passed 5-2 on Tuesday night after a contentious back-and-forth among councilmembers and vocal opposition from community members; if passed following a second reading, the city will create at least 30 parking spots and safe parking programs within four months.

After nearly three hours of presentations, public comment and deliberation Tuesday evening, the Santa Cruz City Council passed an ordinance banning oversized vehicles from parking on city streets from midnight through 5 a.m. seven days a week — and mandating the creation of at least 30 safe overnight parking spaces and other safe parking programs within four months.

The ordinance passed on a 5-2 vote. To go into effect, however, the council has to vote its approval a second time and a date for that vote has not been scheduled.

The ordinance was first presented to council in September by Vice-Mayor Sonja Brunner and Councilmembers Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Renee Golder, with city staff showcasing presentations on the data, environmental and health impacts of keeping oversized vehicles on the streets. In the month since, Brunner said, the group connected with community organizations, health service providers, and those living in oversized vehicles to better assess next steps.

“We received a lot of emails with specific additions, edits, comments — we’ve heard a lot of community input in a very short time,” she said.

Zoom meeting with 7 people
The Santa Cruz City Council deliberated an oversized vehicle ordinance for nearly three hours on Tuesday, ultimately approving the item by a vote of 5-2. Credit: Grace Stetson / Lookout Santa Cruz

The ordinance classifies oversized vehicles as 20 or more feet long, or 8 or more feet high and 7 feet wide, Deputy City Manager Lee Butler said. Alongside the overnight parking ban, oversized vehicles would be also prohibited from using electric, gas and utility connections, open fires, having unattached trailers, maintaining unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and parking within 100 feet of intersections. A recent count by Lookout staff found at least 65 vehicles on the lower Westside alone.

Golder and Kalantari-Johnson referenced their team’s efforts to research ordinances from other California cities including Eureka, Fort Bragg and Berkeley. Additionally, Kalantari-Johnson said the team’s goal was to focus on a “services approach” and proposed a three-tiered system, aiming to have emergency parking, safe parking programs and to create a pathway to housing.

While immediately implementing all three tiers isn’t “practical or feasible,” she added, “We’re not going to rush that, but with this proposal, we’re committing to [these goals].”

With the ordinance’s passage, the city must:

  1. Implement city-operated safe parking programs and expand sponsored safe parking programs for unhoused residents, and return contracts and associated costs to council within four months;
  2. Immediately establish emergency overnight parking on city-owned parcels for at least three vehicles;
  3. Create safe overnight parking on city-owned parcels or other non-residential approved spaces for at least 30 vehicles within four months;
  4. Build a robust safe parking program in partnership with health and service providers and county partners; the program would prioritize seniors, veterans, and those with a valid disabled placard.

The two councilmembers who voted against the ordinance, Sandy Brown and Justin Cummings, said they worried it could lead to further issues of homelessness throughout the city — concerns that were echoed during the hourlong public comment period.

“I’m not supporting this both for ethical reasons, but also for practical and pragmatic reasons,” Brown said. “Without knowing how it would be enforced or where the resources would come from, meeting those needs, I just don’t see action coming out of this outside of more people losing their homes. When we’re actually going to do something that’s going to impact so many people’s lives, we want to have broad input — we have a lot more to do.”

Prior to the vote, Kalantari-Johnson said the city needed to take action, even if there were still questions and concerns surrounding the ordinance.

“We need to move forward; this is a first step,” she said. “It may be imperfect, but this is a step in the right direction.”

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story did not make it clear that the ordinance must be voted on a second time before it can go into effect.

Grace comes to Lookout from just over the hill, originally from Sunnyvale but with a variety of journalism experience from across the country.After doing her undergrad at Seattle University, Grace earned...