Sebastopol City Council to vote on parking ordinance banning RVs during daylight hours

The proposed restrictions follow the city’s opening of a safe parking pilot program for homeless people.|

The Sebastopol City Council on Wednesday is set to vote on a “compromise” ordinance that would effectively ban all RV parking on city streets during daylight hours but allow overnight parking in commercial areas.

The proposed restrictions follow the city’s controversial safe parking pilot program in the north end of town for homeless people living out of their trailers and campers.

The ordinance, and the one-year “RV village” program, come largely in response to a long-standing encampment with at times as many as 20 vehicles on Morris Street near the Barlow shopping center.

Councilwoman Diana Rich, who has taken the lead on local homelessness policy and supports the ordinance, described the moves as “a compromise” to provide refuge for many living in their RVs on and around Morris Street while also preventing future vehicle encampments.

“It’s not a perfect solution,” Rich said. “But we need to keep an eye on the needs of the greater community.”

The vote was initially set for last Tuesday, but the council ran out of time during the public meeting to consider the measure. It instead scheduled the vote for a special meeting on Wednesday night.

The current draft of the ordinance would prohibit all recreational vehicles — meaning a “motor home, travel trailer, truck camper, camping trailer, or other vehicle or trailer” — from parking on city streets in residential neighborhoods at any time.

It would also:

  • Bar parking in commercial or industrial areas between 7:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.
  • Prevent parking large vehicles in public parks or city-owned parking lots unless a person is “conducting city-related business during business hours at the location”;
  • Prohibit parking such vehicles less than 30 feet from the corner of any street, so as to not block visibility on roadways.

Violations could result in citations, towing or both.

The ordinance would not apply to commercial vehicles. It also would allow a 48-hour parking exception for mechanical breakdowns and was amended to permit a “homeowner, tenant, or out-of-town visitor” to park in front of a specific residence for 72 hours.

If approved, it would likely take effect in late March.

The county’s last homeless count in early 2020 found 129 unhoused people in Sebastopol, up from 69 two years prior. All of them lived outdoors or in vehicles.

The proposed regulations are raising concerns with some homeless advocates who have described it as inhumane.

“It’s the criminalization of homelessness,” said Margaret DeMatteo, housing policy attorney with Legal Aid of Sonoma County.

In addition to infringing on homeless peoples’ constitutional rights protecting against excessive punishment, DeMatteo said the ordinance would be a violation of a 2018 federal court decision that effectively prohibits cities in western states from enforcing no-camping ordinances on most public property without first offering homeless people shelter.

City officials have said the ordinance is in line with the court ruling because it allows for overnight parking in some parts of the city.

DeMatteo said Legal Aid of Sonoma County attorneys have begun reaching out to people living in vehicles in the Morris Street area to understand their situation. The nonprofit advocacy group also sent a letter to the City Council outlining its concerns over the ordinance.

Similar RV parking laws in Los Angeles and Mountain View are currently being challenged in federal court.

Last week, Sonoma Applied Village Services, the nonprofit selected by the city to manage the trial RV village, launched an all-hours parking program at 845 Gravenstein Highway North.

Adrienne Lauby, board president of SAVS, said the village is already at capacity with 18 vehicles. A wood fence has been erected around the property, and private security is on site, Lauby said.

On Monday, two RVs remained on Morris Street, which appeared to be lined with vehicles of Barlow shoppers. A few dumpsters put out by the city and local advocacy groups were filled to the brim with trash and debris. Around five other trailers and campers were parked on nearby streets.

Lauby said the nonprofit West County Community Services is reaching out to people living in those vehicles who weren’t able to move into the safe parking program.

“They’re working really hard to help those folks, especially with the parking regulation coming,” Lauby said.

Nearby businesses, including the Barlow, have complained that encampment residents have damaged private property, left trash in the roadway and caused other health and safety hazards.

In response, authorities recently increased parking enforcement on Morris Street.

Starting the day after Christmas, Sebastopol police began issuing more citations for parking and vehicle code infractions. Up until that point, officers had been working for months with homeless advocates including SAVS to bring RVs into compliance, police said.

Over last year and into January, officers made 100 police reports related to drug activity, property damage and other crimes on Morris Street, police said. There were 35 arrests, 10 of which for drug crimes and 15 for outstanding warrants and probation violations. Authorities also towed 21 vehicles.

The move by police led safe parking operators to accept a handful of vehicles to the RV village a few weeks ahead of schedule, angering some neighbors.

A recently formed community group, Friends of Northwest Sebastopol, sued the city in January to halt the safe parking program. It argues the council rushed through approving the village without considering the its impact on neighbors.

An initial hearing in the case was held on Thursday, according to the Sonoma County Superior Court’s website. Sebastopol officials have said they are confident the suit will not be successful in derailing the RV village.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian.

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