Lookout Update: Oversized vehicle ordinance now in limbo as Coastal Commission block forces rethinking

RVs line a street on Santa Cruz's Westside
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Last Thursday’s California Coastal Commission ruling is the latest setback in the controversial “RV ban” in the city of Santa Cruz. While the city moves ahead with other homelessness plans, the city council will take up how to deal with the ruling when it returns from summer recess on Aug. 9.

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

The much-debated oversized vehicle ordinance (OVO), a notable component of the city of Santa Cruz’s aggressive approach to addressing homelessness issues, has hit a significant barrier in the form of the California Coastal Commission (CCC).

Last Thursday, the CCC ruled that the ordinance requires state review before implementation.

Passed by city council with a 5-2 vote on Nov. 9, the ordinance bans 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. These vehicles would also not be allowed to use electric, gas, or utility connections, have open fires or unattached trailers, display unsanitary conditions, and park within 100 feet of intersections.

That last provision is the item that raised eyebrows at the Coastal Commission.

Along with requiring the vehicles to park more than 100 feet away from intersections, the same caveat would apply to crosswalks, stop signs and any traffic signal effective 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

According to the CCC, that ban would greatly affect coastal public access and fully eliminate a large portion, 54% it estimates, of oversized vehicle parking areas in the coastal zone. While the commission had previously said the ban would have “insignificant” impact, it reversed course last week when it ruled in favor of Santa Cruz Cares’ appeal with the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights California.

“We hope that the city council moves to offer services without criminalization in the defeat of this ordinance,” said Santa Cruz Cares in a statement posted to Instagram on Thursday.

Councilmember Renee Golder said that while the new ruling came as a bit of a surprise, the council will adjust, aiming to meet its goals.

“We’re moving forward with all of our services that we can, like the safe parking program,” she said, adding that the city has not yet discussed a response. “We’re in recess and haven’t had a formal meeting with the city attorney or manager. Bottom line, it’s just too early to know.”

City Attorney Tony Condotti said that’s likely to change come August.

“I do anticipate that we’ll be discussing the ordinance once the council returns from recess,” he said.

The commission’s ruling is only the latest roadblock for the controversial ordinance.

In September, then vice-mayor Sonja Brunner and Councilmembers Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Golder first presented the OVO to the council; presentations from city staff also discussed environmental and health impacts of allowing these vehicles on the streets. The ordinance partially resulted from the city’s revamped camping policies from spring 2021 and reinvigorated push on homelessness issues.

Local conversation has been animated since the ordinance’s November passing, with a number of Westside residents claiming hazardous conditions and environmental concerns, while homeless advocates have described the proposed legislation as criminalizing homelessness.

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