Soon, parking your RV in your neighborhood will require a permit after the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct the city attorney's office to begin work on an ordinance that would ban the parking of oversized vehicles in residential neighborhoods and city right of ways.
The ban will apply to vehicles over 22 feet long and will require owners of RVs to park them in driveways or apply for a 72-hour permit to park them on the street. A separate motion will be filed in the coming weeks to eliminate a provision that would have required oversized vehicles to be parked behind a fence, something that could penalize owners who don't currently have a fence or are prohibited by city codes from erecting one.
Residents will be allowed to apply for free permits online up to 20 times per year, granting them with 60 days of parking their oversized vehicles in front of their homes. Extensions of those permits will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Enforcement of the ban will be complaint based and city officials say that will eliminate the need to hire additional staff.
Signage will be posted at all city entrances including freeway off-ramps at a cost estimated to be around $18,000. Long Beach Public Works Director Craig Beck said that if the city were to maintain its current practice of responding to complaints from residents and neighborhood groups and posting signage in a piecemeal approach the cost to the city would be much more.
“If we were to do that on every street in the city on a case-by-case basis, and I would anticipate that we would continue to receive more and more complaints about this, it would be potentially a seven-figure number,” Beck said.
The item was first introduced by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price in October, a move that she said was aimed at reducing the number of large vehicles that were posing visibility issues and contributing to blight. She refuted, again, that the intent of this amendment to the municipal code was in any way aimed at criminalizing homeless individuals from sleeping in their vehicles.
“I did not intend, nor am I prepared to discuss and have received zero notice that we were going to be speaking on ordinances involving people sleeping in their vehicles and the legal parameters of such,” Price said. “That’s not on the agenda, and in my opinion I think we’re talking about two very different issues.”
Price’s statement came in response to Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce’s suggestion that the ordinance amendments include removing the lines relating to persons sleeping in their cars with Pearce stating it didn’t make much sense to have a policy on the books if it can’t be or isn’t being enforced.
Federal courts have concluded that it is unconstitutional to enact bans on sleeping outside. If enough shelter space is not present to fill the needs of an area’s homeless population then it cannot enact laws that would prohibit them from sleeping where they are able to.
The Washington Post reported on an August 2015 filing from the Department of Justice states that “sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”
Assistant City Attorney Tom Modica sought to clarify that people who live in RVs and those living in cars are "two separate populations." He added that those with RVs have a different standard of living than those living in vehicles. However, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies those living in vehicles—the department's definition does not differentiate between types of vehicles—as homeless. Those dwelling in RVs are also subject to annual homeless counts.
Pearce introduced a separate item in October that sought to determine if parking lots in the city could be set aside for people who do live in their cars to park legally overnight. Modeled after other cities’ efforts, the program could potentially provide services to the homeless who do utilize the “Safe Parking Program” if the council does eventually adopt it.
While Price has maintained her stance, public comment in both written and spoken form, have iterated that at least some residents of the city see the municipal code change as a means to rid their neighborhoods of homeless sleeping in their RVs.
A Fifth District resident who identified himself as Anthony Cruz said that his neighborhood deals with a lot of RV issues, especially because of its proximity to a park. He noted that people sleeping in their vehicles was a touchy subject but said that the “unintentional curbside neighbors” that have persisted near his home was an issue that the council needed to address.
“I don’t pay what I pay for my mortgage to open up my window and see RVs all up and down my street,” Cruz said.
Once drafted, the ordinance will still require the city council to adopt it and will also be subject to changes handed down from the California Coastal Commission which has jurisdiction over legislation that would affect the coastal zone. The amendment to exclude the need for a gate to park an oversized vehicle behind is expected to be introduced in conjunction with the council’s vote to adopt the municipal code changes.