An ordinance that would ban oversized vehicles from parking overnight in Santa Cruz will have its second and final vote Tuesday. Proponents of the ordinance say it is a necessary first step to address the issues surrounding RV dwellers.
As the Santa Cruz City Council prepares for a final vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would ban oversized vehicles from parking overnight on streets anywhere in the city, the issue continues to be deeply divisive.
In broad terms, homeowners — primarily on the Westside — say the lack of regulation has led to dirty and potentially dangerous conditions. On the other side are advocates for those living in the vehicles, saying the city has failed to find adequate alternatives for a vulnerable population on the edge of homelessness, and that this law would only make things worse.
A first vote on the ordinance passed by a 5-2 vote late last month. The councilmembers in favor of the law are responding to complaints about an increasing amount of garbage and drug paraphernalia, as well as safety concerns, in the areas where the RVs are parked.
If passed Tuesday — a second vote is required under state law — the more than 60 RVs currently on city streets would be banned from parking between midnight and 5 a.m. within 30 days. The city would, among other items, also be required to provide three emergency spaces immediately as well as 30 permanent overnight parking spaces within four months of the law going into effect.
UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, Councilmember Justin Cummings asked for the agenda item to be pulled, saying that many constituents had reached out to his office over the past two weeks with their concerns with the ordinance as currently written.
However, after discussing potential plans to make things easier for RV dwellers, the council brought the ordinance to a vote, passing 5-2.
Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson said during the meeting that the city has been at work with the county to better determine safe parking locations and service options, details of which are still being worked out. Look for more on this issue Wednesday on Lookout.
City officials hope to supplement this with an expanded safe parking program, which is currently spearheaded by the Association of Faith Communities. Currently, AFC offers 15 parking spots in the city — most of which are on religious sites — along with 21 spots outside the city, such as in Aptos.
Those in favor of the ordinance say it is a good first step toward balancing the needs of homeowners while still being sensitive to those living in precarious conditions. Opponents say it criminalizes homelessness.
Lookout reached out to more than 20 homeowners and business owners who had previously expressed support for the law seeking to understand what they hoped it would accomplish.
Many said they were hesitant or fearful of speaking up, saying they feared being shouted at or picketed for expressing their views publicly. However, about half shared their stories — and why they believe there is a lot of work left to be done.
‘Disrespectful of the environment, the town’
When Diana Magor walks to Natural Bridges State Beach to count the butterflies nowadays, she’s noticed more and more garbage dumped alongside the road. The retired biologist has lived and worked in Santa Cruz for 35 years, but has seen the problem increase over time, more recently over the past year.
“I don’t think it has to do with the pandemic, but now people have the notion they can get away with it,” she said. “Just park and dump their garbage there … it’s so disrespectful of the environment and the town.”
Micah Breeden, a property owner for the past 16 years and chief financial officer of Allterra Solar for the past 14 years, has been witness to many issues over the years surrounding his offices on McPherson Street. He’s cleaned up drug paraphernalia in the parking lot, seen abandoned vehicles along the street, and dealt with some individuals defecating in doorways or spreading feces on door handles.
“I’ve worked with the city parking department, public health and the police department — we have a long history with it,” he said. “We want to, as much as we can, help out … but the big issues we’ve looked at, how can we mitigate?”
Breeden said he feels the city as a whole has been more lenient toward the unhoused compared to other Bay Area cities, which could be the reason the unhoused population is so much more pronounced now.
“I get it, the last few years have been very hard on everybody, some more than others,” he said. “I’m not trying to put people who are in a really hard position in a worse position, if they’re respectful of the situation and their surroundings and the community as a whole.”
Patti Spooner, founder and owner of Alta Organic Coffee on Mission Street Extension, said the situation has gotten to the point where it “isn’t safe for us to operate our business.” She noted that the store’s delivery van had been vandalized three different times, with the gas tank drained most recently. She said she also doesn’t feel comfortable having her staff come on site with the issues at hand.
“This hasn’t been a problem in the past, until the last six months — but there was someone in our side yard who had vandalized our shed to get in,” she said. “It was really disturbing that there was a transient person on the property while (our female roaster) was working at 6:30 in the morning.”
Spooner said she no longer feels comfortable walking her dog to Natural Bridges, an area that Magor — the biologist — has seen become more overrun with garbage.
“I don’t have a problem with people parking alongside the road — a lot of them need a place to stay — but I do really object to garbage dumping,” Magor said. “If people were more respectful and not dump, I would think that particular location would be ideal to park.”
Needing ‘a safe place to camp, park’
Bill Brooks lives on Highland Avenue on the upper Westside, but has heard many concerns and complaints from friends with RVs parked in front of their homes. He believes that the trash and sewage his friends have dealt with have become much larger problems that are widespread throughout Santa Cruz, lending to his support for the ordinance.
“It’s a city problem — they need to have a campsite or a big place where these folks could go,” he said. “If [RV owners] want to park on the street, let them apply for a permit, but the city should have a safe place to camp — and also park RVs — for the homeless … it needs to be managed and monitored.”
Rena Mills, who has owned the RV Service Center on Mission Street since 2002, noted that one of her major concerns was in relation to the RVs’ propane tanks.
“They camp in place, and then use portable propane tanks,” she said. “They line them up on the exterior, on the road side of the RV … if someone were to hit that with a car, you would literally explode, the whole block would blow up.”
Mills said that knowledge alone is a sign of some solution needed to go into effect, but believes that the proposed safe parking — at minimum 30 spaces to be provided within four months — wouldn’t “even make a dent.”
“We need more resources to build out campgrounds with facilities that can accommodate those who have this as an option to live here,” she said.
‘They just want the problem solved’
Local activist Kayla Kumar said she understands the frustrations of homeowners and business owners. But she and others who oppose the ordinance say it would criminalize the unhoused, potentially making things worse.
“This isn’t going to solve homelessness — it’s actually going to deepen the source of that disruption,” Kumar said Monday.
Kumar said the real solution would be to work at getting to the root of these behaviors: “I don’t believe it’s wrong to be concerned about trash, et cetera — but how do we actually address those behaviors, and would that actually be addressed by people moving from their vehicles onto the streets?”
Mills believes the ordinance will be just a first step to what the city can do to regulate the issues surrounding oversized vehicles and homelessness, but questions how it can be effective.
“It would be nice if we had more options for people … the concern I have is, how will this be policed?” she asked. “How are we going to enforce this and to make it stick?”
The city council will be evaluating and voting on the ordinance with a second reading Tuesday afternoon. Those interested can tune in here to the live discussion and vote.