RVs parked along Delaware Avenue on the Westside.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Lookout Update: Santa Cruz overnight RV parking ban moves slowly forward

The city of Santa Cruz’s aim to remove RVs and trailers from city streets still hasn’t become reality. The planning commission’s vote to keep it moving is another step in the complex process.

Santa Cruz’s move to ban overnight parking on city streets — part of sustained efforts to relocate homeless people from public places — has taken a small step forward.

On Thursday evening, the city of Santa Cruz’s planning commission approved the coastal development and design permits for the oversized vehicle ordinance by a vote of 4-3, sending the ordinance next to the California Coastal Commission. In doing so, it turned down two appeals from local advocacy groups.

The city council approved the ordinance Nov. 9, calling for oversized vehicles such as recreational vehicles and trailers to be banned from overnight parking citywide. The council wanted to put the law into effect within 30 days. To do that, the city had to provide both new safe parking locations and a permit program, neither of which are yet fully in place.

The ordinance has sparked heated community conversation, with some Westside neighbors noting safety and environmental concerns around the vehicles, and homeless advocates calling the move a “criminalization of homelessness.”

What’s new: Though the city council had passed the ordinance, it returned to the planning commission as part of the required steps to initiate the plan, in accordance with city guidelines. The hearing largely focused on two appeals. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed its appeal on behalf of Veronica Crow, a 70-year-old woman who lives in her RV on the Westside, claiming that the city hasn’t provided “meaningful increase of options for folks who can’t afford housing in Santa Cruz.”

In addition, attorney Reggie Meisler filed an appeal on behalf of Santa Cruz Cares, claiming “systematic bigotry” toward homelessness on the part of the city.

“Even for those who support reducing the impact of homelessness on neighborhoods, this ordinance does not achieve that,” Meisler said. “Use the money for trash pickup or grey water treatment — there are a lot of inherent problems that weren’t taken into consideration.”

Two hours into the meeting, commissioner Andy Schiffrin presented 11 changes to the permits in consideration, which both the other commissioners and city staff said were irrelevant to the appeals at hand. The discussion of those changes took over an hour and a half.

After nearly four hours of meeting, the planning commission turned down the appeals, and voted 4-3 to move the process forward to the coastal commission. Cyndi Dawson, Miriam Greenberg, Sean Maxwell and Schiffrin voted in favor, with Julie Conway, Pete Kennedy and Mark Mesiti-Miller voting against.

An in-depth look at why Santa Cruz County is one of the state’s epicenters of homelessness, what is being done and the...

What’s next/what we’re following

  • The measure now moves to the California Coastal Commission, which is required to review the ordinance given Santa Cruz’s inclusion in the coastal zone. The date for that hearing is still to be determined.
  • The city must also complete its own to-do lists — establishing safe parking locations and a permit program — before the ordinance can take effect. At this point, there is no date certain when that will happen.

Asked this week about that implementation, City Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, who introduced the ordinance in September, explained her view.

“I think there’s a misperception that there’s been enforcement happening, and that’s incorrect,” she said. “The enforcement that’s been happening is law enforcement responding to behaviors that are illegal. … We’re still in the process of setting the ordinance up.”

Her main priority in advocating for the ordinance, she said, is to give community members living in their vehicles “a safe place to be. That is not our city streets — that’s not working.”