The Sebastopol City Council is weighing a new ordinance that would greatly restrict RV parking on city streets, which is raising alarm with some homeless advocates.
If approved next month, the new rules — which would effectively prohibit RV street parking during daylight hours — could take effect in early March.
That timeline would allow a controversial safe parking program for those living out of their vehicles about a mile from downtown to be completed and begin accepting residents.
The all-hours parking lot and the ordinance come largely in response to neighbors’ concerns about a longstanding encampment with over a dozen RVs on Morris Street not far from the Barlow shopping and restaurant center.
During a virtual public meeting on Tuesday, council members reiterated that the proposed parking rules are meant to coincide with moving as many people as possible from Morris Street to the planned 22-vehicle “RV village” on a private lot at 845 Gravenstein North.
“People don’t want to be on the street in an unmanaged facility,” Mayor Patrick Slayter said during the public virtual meeting. “They want a clean, safe, well-lit place to live.”
Still, Alicia Roman, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, described the proposed rules as “cruel” for strictly limiting where and when RV-dwellers can park in the city.
“They basically are banishing unhoused people. That’s what they’re doing,” Roman said.
Sonoma County’s last homeless count in early 2020 found 129 unhoused people in Sebastopol. All of them lived outside or in their vehicles.
J.D. Gadde has lived in his bus on Morris Street on and off for six years. He said he’s looking forward to being able to move into the RV Village and take advantage of the services that will be offered there.
“But the thing that they're not taking into account is the people around the area do not want us there,” Gadde said of the planned village. “Whereas right here, we’re in a commercial area, we’re at night, and we’re not bothering anyone. And we don’t want to bother anyone. We just want to live.”
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 being parked on local 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.
The ordinance would also 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.” Additionally, it would prohibit parking such vehicles less than 30 feet from the corner of any street 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.
During Tuesday’s meeting, many residents and business owners voiced support for the parking rules, citing health and safety concerns on Morris Street. But some council members, including Una Glass, said they would not be comfortable approving the ordinance before the RV village is in track for completion.
Even so, officials are optimistic the program, which will be run by the nonprofit Sonoma Applied Village Services, can begin taking in residents next month before the ordinance could take effect on March 2.
Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore urged the council to act quickly regardless of when the safe parking program is ready.
“The overwhelming support for the ordinance by the community has been evident (and) shows there is a great need for us to be able to provide some type of parking enforcement that has some teeth to it,” Kilgore said.
Carrying out the new rules could be complicated, however, by a 2018 federal court ruling that effectively prevents authorities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances or clearing most encampments on public property without first offering shelter.
City attorney and manager Larry McLaughlin said the proposed parking regulations are in compliance with the court ruling because vehicle-dwellers would be allowed to park in nonresidential areas of the city between 10 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.
“There’s ample place for a person to park overnight and camp and be in their vehicle in the nighttime hours,” McLaughlin said.
Roman, the attorney with California Rural Assistance, disagreed with that interpretation, arguing the ruling should cover those living in RVs and still require city authorities to offer shelter before citing them or forcing them to move.
She added the proposed ordinance also could violate RV-dwellers’ constitutional property and due process rights.
“I don’t know of any jurisdiction where basically you banish unhoused people during the day and say, ‘OK, you can come back at night,’” she said.
The council is set to potentially vote on the parking ordinance during its next meeting on Feb. 1.
You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at email@example.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian
Staff photographer John Burgess contributed to this story.
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