Lookout Update: Santa Cruz City Council maintains oversized parking ordinance

Members of Santa Cruz City Council
Members of Santa Cruz City Council discussed the oversized vehicle ordinance again Tuesday evening, after Councilmember Renee Golder (bottom center) called for a review of the ordinance.
(Grace Stetson / Lookout Santa Cruz)

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council rejected recommendations from the city’s planning commission on changes to the long-sought ordinance.

The Santa Cruz City Council rebuked recommendations from the city’s planning commission Tuesday, voting to keep the city’s overnight parking ban — known as the oversized vehicle ordinance — in its original form.

A logo for a Lookout Update on the Santa Cruz's oversized vehicle ordinance

“I really felt like the planning commission circumvented those years of work and the democratic process that went into creating the ordinance as it was written,” said Councilmember Renee Golder, who brought the matter back to the council via a call for review on March 14. During Tuesday’s hearing, Golder said the ordinance had a long history of consideration, following 2013 recommendations from the city’s public safety task force that led to nearly nine years of work.

The vote follows a March 5 planning commission vote on the ordinance — specifically discussing the coastal development and design permits — in which commission members recommended changes to the ordinance’s implementation by a vote of 4-3.

Golder said community members felt “blindsided” by changes to the ordinance the planning commission recommended during that March 5 meeting. Those proposed changes included additional measures to provide both safe parking and city-run services for vehicle dwellers.

After just over two hours of deliberation, councilmembers voted 5-2 to keep the original ordinance — first approved by the council, also 5-2, on Nov. 9 — in place. In both votes, Councilmembers Golder, Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, Donna Meyers, Martine Watkins and Mayor Sonja Brunner voted in favor of the ordinance; Councilmembers Sandy Brown and Justin Cummings dissented.

The city of Santa Cruz’s aim to remove RVs and trailers from city streets still hasn’t become reality. The planning...

What’s being debated

Tuesday’s meeting produced familiar arguments from both sides of the OVO debate.

Eighteen community members, including some who have experienced homelessness, voiced support for or concerns over the ordinance’s implementation.

Deb Elston, who has worked as a volunteer with the Santa Cruz Police Department in writing tickets for oversized vehicles and is the founder of the group Santa Cruz Neighbors, said it is the vehicle owners’ responsibility to “follow the laws that are written for particular reasons.” The ordinance program will give the city the chance to lift up the unhoused, she added.

Stacey Falls, a local high school teacher who lives in her RV, said: “The OVO kicks people while they’re down — I think that the amendments made by the planning commission helped make it a little bit less mean-spirited and ugly.”

Reggie Meisler, one of the ordinance’s appellants who represented Santa Cruz Cares, said: “None of this is about safe parking … no one is talking about 99% of this bill, which is draconian and obviously intended to criminalize the unhoused.”

In response to opposition to the ordinance, Kalantari-Johnson said: “I think that sometimes people just want to say ‘no’ and push back, maybe because there’s fear of the unknown … but the reality is, for the first time ever, the city of Santa Cruz is offering safe sleeping options for oversized vehicles, and that’s a big deal.”

What’s next

  • Should a group or individual appeal the council’s decision, the ordinance would next go to the California Coastal Commission, which is required to review the ordinance given Santa Cruz’s inclusion in the coastal zone.
  • The city must continue to complete its updates for the ordinance’s implementation — establishing safe parking locations, a permit program and connected services — before the ordinance can take effect. As of publication, the city said there were six established safe parking places and that it was assessing three additional proposals for the Tier III connected services program.

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