The Santa Cruz City Council at its Tuesday meeting advanced a proposed law that would make it more difficult for residents living in recreational vehicles (RVs) to find a place to park overnight.
It’s a move that supporters hope will remedy the issues residents have brought forward related to the estimated 65 RVs that line the streets on the lower Westside. Opponents say it will only penalize the people living in vehicles, and exacerbate the homeless crisis in Santa Cruz.
The proposed law would prohibit overnight parking for oversized vehicles on city streets unless the vehicle has a permit to be there. Residents could apply for a permit to have an oversized vehicle parked in front of their house for a few days a month. Unpermitted vehicles could be subject to fines and potentially towing.
The City Council reported receiving more than 400 emails regarding the law, and around a few dozen people called into Tuesday’s meeting. The number of callers in favor and those opposing the law were relatively even.
According to the proposal, since January of this year, there have been 15 emergency calls related to oversized vehicles, with seven of those calls related to fire and/or gas leakage. The sewage waste discharged from these RVs and onto streets is another concern cited by the proposal. One caller also mentioned feeling unsafe walking down the streets lined with RVs with his young child.
Council members Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown voted against moving the proposal forward, citing high costs to implement the initiative and the potential for the ordinance to target people experiencing homelessness with fines.
According to the staff report, the cost of a law like this could range between $150,000-500,000, depending on how robust a program the city chooses—precious funds that the city is in need of given the budget deficit, according to Cummings.
Vice Mayor Sonja Brunner, who brought the item forward at a meeting earlier this year, clarified that if someone living in an RV is participating in a safe parking program, or another local shelter program, they will not be subject to violations. But Brown said the framework to conduct a program like this is lacking and could leave people experiencing homelessness vulnerable to infractions.
“I don’t believe that simply writing an ordinance with all kinds of open-ended questions about whether or not it can even be operationalized resources, I don’t believe that’s [an] action towards addressing concerns around these RVs,” Brown said.
Those council members who voted in favor of the proposal cited concerns from residents and the need for the council to make progress on the dire homeless situation as their reasoning.
“It’s a way to get resources to Santa Cruz,” said Mayor Donna Meyers. “Our voters want us to fix this problem. They don’t want to hear us start just keep talking, talking, talking.”
By taking action, the council can demonstrate the need for more state and federal funding that can be funneled to the program and other homeless programs, Meyers said.
“Our city is probably the most impacted city of its size in the state of California, if not in most of the western states,” Meyers said. “We have to stop pointing at each other and we have to resource what we have to address homelessness, which is an extreme issue in this city.”
The city also gave a target date for offering in-person options for city council meetings. By the second meeting in November, the city hopes to have a hybrid model in place, so those interested can have the option to attend the meeting in person in addition to virtually.