Coastal Commission OKs one-year pilot of Santa Cruz’s disputed oversized vehicle ordinance

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

After years of questions and division, the City of Santa Cruz will be able to move forward with its law restricting recreational vehicles from parking along its coastal areas. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Justin Cummings, a newcomer to the California Coastal Commission who voted against the ordinance as a Santa Cruz city councilmember, voted with the 9-2 commission majority Thursday.

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After years of back and forth, city council debates, community appeals and division, the City of Santa Cruz will move forward with its long-sought law prohibiting recreational vehicles and campers from parking overnight on city streets along the coast.

The California Coastal Commission voted 9-2 Thursday to greenlight a one-year permit for the city to get the oversized vehicle ordinance up and running. Commissioner Justin Cummings, a former Santa Cruz mayor and city councilmember from 2018 to 2022 who initially voted against the ordinance, said he was “reluctantly” voting to support the permit after adding some conditions.

It will now be illegal for vehicles over 20 feet in length to park along the city’s coastal area between midnight and 5 a.m. The ordinance has been widely criticized as targeting those who live in their cars while benefiting homeowners along the coast, who have complained about the unsightliness of large vehicles crowding coastal vistas and dumping litter and sewage in the area.

The central question in front of the commission Thursday was whether an ordinance would improve coastal access and protection of environmental resources over the status quo. Commissioner Meagan Harmon of Santa Barbara said she felt the burden of the ordinance disproportionately targeted less-privileged groups while the benefits were largely reserved for the housed community. Commissioner Ann Notthoff said she was concerned that the city was using the ordinance in the absence of an integrated homeless program.

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“I think there is a really complex social policy that is overlaying this Coastal Commission inquiry into this program,” said Chair Donne Brownsey. Brownsey said a yearlong pilot program would do more to answer questions of impact than would sending the city back to the drawing board.

The city will continue to operate, and is expected to expand, its safe parking program, which opens up sanctioned overnight camping in some areas for oversized vehicles. Nearly 50 of the spots will have bathrooms and hand-washing stations, and up to 20 others will have 24-hour social services, at a cost of $30,000 per spot, according to the city’s planning director, Lee Butler.

Cummings, now a Santa Cruz County supervisor, urged caution on the rollout of the ordinance, and questioned the city’s prioritization of resources.

“I have some concerns that the city doesn’t have the capacity to deal with blackwater dumping and litter, but they do have the capacity for all these other things,” Cummings said. “So I look at this as a way to push people away from these areas.”

Ahead of his vote supporting the permit, Cummings added requirements that the city give owners 72-hour notice before towing vehicles violating the ordinance, as well as come up with an operational plan to manage the issues of litter and sewage dumping as they relate to oversized vehicles.


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