Now that a split city council has passed a controversial RV ban in Santa Cruz, what happens next?
The oversized vehicle ordinance had its second reading at city council Tuesday, ultimately passing on a 5-2 vote. In advance of the implementation of the ordinance, city officials and advocates are working to assess next steps, including informing vehicle dwellers, setting up a permitting system, and establishing services.
After much contentious back-and-forth over an ordinance that would ban oversized vehicles from parking overnight on Santa Cruz streets, what has become known as “the RV ban” was passed by the city council Tuesday with a vote of 5-2.
As currently constructed, the ordinance will go into effect within 30 days.
It will prohibit oversized vehicles — 20 or more feet long, or 8 or more feet high and 7 feet wide — from parking on city streets between midnight and 5 a.m. The vehicles would also be prohibited from using electric, gas and utility connections, having open fires, having unattached trailers, maintaining unsanitary conditions, and parking within 100 feet of intersections.
An ordinance that would ban oversized vehicles from parking overnight in Santa Cruz will have its second and final vote...
The ordinance was originally proposed in September by Vice-Mayor Sonja Brunner and councilmembers Renee Golder and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, addressing community concerns — largely from Westside residents — surrounding the environmental and health impacts of the vehicles and their residents.
On Tuesday, Kalantari-Johnson noted that since the first reading and vote on the ordinance on Oct. 26 the council and city staff had worked with the county to better assess safe parking options and programs to assist vehicle dwellers.
“We’re continuing to work with staff and meet with community groups on the design of the safe parking program,” she said, noting that the safe parking spaces could spread to unincorporated lots throughout Santa Cruz County.
Councilmember Justin Cummings — who voted against the ordinance along with Sandy Brown — asked for the item to be pulled from the agenda Tuesday, saying many individuals had expressed concern over the lack of services included in the ordinance. Opponents have also voiced worries that the ordinance would criminalize homelessness in the city.
“We should be addressing problematic RVs, but this ordinance really targets any vehicle over 20 feet, even people who aren’t problematic or homeless,” he said.
A split decision
On Wednesday, both Kalantari-Johnson and Cummings spoke with Lookout about their votes, and what the ordinance’s implementation could look like in the coming 30 days.
Kalantari-Johnson said the ordinance should not be viewed as a “silver bullet,” but that “people want this situation resolved on some level.”
“Suggestions and solutions have been brought forward and have been very helpful,” she said. “It helps us to further the design of the safe-parking framework and the ordinance ... the goal should always be a pathway to housing.”
Since the first reading of the ordinance on Oct. 26, the ordinance has been updated with the assistance of Deputy City Manager Lee Butler. It still follows a three-tier system, but the city is looking to establish services and safe parking that are available more than “just overnight,” Kalantari-Johnson said.
Further, she noted, “an important piece that seems to get overlooked is that there are safeguards for folks who want to engage in safe parking, and that they will not then be penalized or have consequences.”
For Cummings, however, that is not enough to quell the real questions at hand, including which departments will be responsible for enforcement, the permitting fees and processes, and the towing location for vehicles that violate the ordinance.
“If we’re going to embark on this journey of really trying to take on homelessness, we need to understand how it’s going to be funded.”
— Justin Cummings
“If we’re going to embark on this journey of really trying to take on homelessness, we need to understand how it’s going to be funded,” he said.
Cummings said that following Tuesday’s midyear financial review at city council, he believes the city is “now being held hostage,” with Santa Cruz on the hook for between $5 million and $12 million per year if the city aims to invest in capital infrastructure projects. With that, Cummings said Santa Cruz now faces either going broke as a city or passing revenue measures to fund the additional services associated with the oversized vehicle ordinance.
“I appreciate the intent, and I’m fully on board with trying to address these issues — but this came about very quickly, and I don’t think the community fully understood what was going on,” he said. “I’m really upset and concerned about where we’re headed ... we need to get the programs, service providers and funding fleshed out before we pass laws.”
Who’s responsible for enforcement?
In previous reporting on the ordinance, it was not made clear which agency — the Santa Cruz Police Department or the city’s Parking Enforcement department — would be responsible for maintaining the ordinance.
In speaking with Lookout last week, interim police chief Bernie Escalante said that while he was unsure who will do what, the community will expect the city to have a plan in place by the time the ordinance goes into effect next month, which could be difficult.
“Trying to implement a permit program is not going to be easy,” he said. “We’ll have to get acquainted with who or where we can refer to these people if they want resources.”
Escalante said the department was already planning on the Tier I implementation — a minimum three emergency parking spots at the SCPD lot — and should have a better understanding of directing vehicles to those spaces once the ordinance starts.
“The problem today is not going to be any different today than 30 days from now,” he said. “A lot of this is complaint-driven — we will not be able to stop at every single vehicle.”
Representatives of the city’s Parking Enforcement department were not available for comment, but spokesperson Elizabeth Smith explained that the ordinance itself would be “another tool for enforcement.”
“Oversized vehicles will have to have a permit, and it will be easier to identify which vehicles are permitted or not,” she said.
However, she noted, the city has not yet established the permitting program for the oversized vehicles, and would likely require a local development permit with the city’s zoning coordinator. That permit could then be appealed by the Coastal Commission, similar to the 2016 ordinance, which could extend the timeline for the ordinance’s implementation.
“Thirty days from the ordinance’s passage is when it could first be enforced ... as with any new ordinance, a lot of this stuff is TBD,” she said.
What about the people directly affected?
Following Tuesday’s vote, Serg Kagno of Stepping Up Santa Cruz said he understood the frustration, even as an opponent of the ordinance and a vehicle dweller himself.
“I hear all of the problems — each one of the vocal groups isn’t honest about the whole issue,” he said. “There is sewage dumping and needles on the ground and it’s disgusting, but there are ways of offering services to lessen those behaviors.”
Kagno — a Santa Cruz resident since the mid 1990s — believes implementing the ordinance could lead to further trauma and stress for the homeless.
“It’s hard to feel like a part of the community when you’re seen as a criminal and so ostracized — I truly believe that the city council just doesn’t care,” he said. “You can be compassionate and effective ... Santa Cruz has never tried the more obvious nicer approach of making services available so people can choose different behaviors.”
Micah Breeden, a proponent of the ordinance, said he believes that compassion could help for those vehicle dwellers who are employed and contributing to the community — but that isn’t, from his viewpoint, how the majority of Santa Cruz’s vehicle dwellers behave.
“The majority aren’t employed, or are likely mentally unstable and addicted to something keeping them from progressing. Why do they get to live for free wherever they want, but then take resources from the city?”
— Micah Breeden
“The majority aren’t employed, or are likely mentally unstable and addicted to something keeping them from progressing,” he said. “Why do they get to live for free wherever they want, but then take resources from the city?”
Breeden hopes the ordinance will help vehicle dwellers who are in dire straits and in need of more assistance, and said he doesn’t want to put people in a worse position if they are respectful of the area they inhabit. Ultimately, however, he believes that’s just one part of the larger issue.
“The coattails are much bigger than the person wearing the coat,” he said. “The big, long coattails that are dragging behind are causing all the problems.”