Brian Ashe and Sherri Fry stand next to their RV on Natural Bridges Drive in Santa Cruz

Brian Ashe and Sherri Fry have lived in their RV in Santa Cruz for four years. They parked on Natural Bridges Drive on Tuesday afternoon because “it’s one of the few places to park that’s out of people’s way,” Ashe said. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> The Santa Cruz City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to advance a proposed law that would limit overnight parking for many people who live in RVs.

The proposal comes in response to some Westside residents’ concerns about trash, waste and crime related to people who live in their vehicles. The proposal has changed slightly since the council discussed an early concept at a Sept. 22 special meeting.

The council is expected to discuss the proposed law again soon. If approved, the law would take effect 30 days after that hearing.

The proposal by Vice Mayor Sonja Brunner and council members Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Renee Golder includes:

  • A requirement for overnight parking permits for oversized vehicles. Residents’ permits would be valid for one year and allow the vehicle to be parked in a spot for 72 hours four times a month. Vehicles must be parked next to the resident’s home, or if that spot is not available then within 400 feet. Residents can buy up to six visitor permits per year for out-of-town guests. Visitor permits would be similar but valid for 72 hours. 
    • “Oversize vehicles” are vehicles or trailers at least 20 feet long. Vehicles that are at least 8 feet tall and 7 feet wide also are considered oversize. Mirrors, air conditioners and other attachments do not count toward the vehicle’s size. Oversize vehicles do not include pickups, vans or other sport utility vehicles that are less than 20 feet long and less than 8 feet tall.
  • Resident permits are available to people who primarily live at a street address in the city of Santa Cruz or own land with a street address in Santa Cruz. An RV owner must have a permanent address in the city to get a resident or visitor RV permit. Post office box addresses do not count as street addresses.
  • Without a permit, RV parking generally would not be allowed on streets, alleys or city lots 12-5 a.m. The limits would not apply to emergency situations such as mechanical breakdowns. The limits also would not apply to commercial vehicles with the oversize vehicle parking permits. Fines would be set for violations.

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More safe parking spaces

The three council members also proposed an expansion of the city’s safe parking programs for people who live in their cars. They directed city staff to return within four months of the proposed law’s approval with draft contracts and expected costs. The proposed safe parking program includes:  

  • When the law takes effect, an “immediate” addition of three safe overnight parking spaces on city-owned land, likely at the Santa Cruz Police Department parking lot at 155 Center St. 
  • At least 30 additional overnight parking spaces on city-owned or non-residential land within four months of the proposed law’s approval
  • “A robust safe parking program in partnership with service providers, health providers, and county partners,” Brunner, Golder and Kalantari-Johnson wrote. 

The safe parking programs would prioritize families with children, unaccompanied minors and youth aged 18 to 24.

Explaining their votes

Brunner, Kalantari-Johnson, Golder, Mayor Donna Meyers and Councilmember Martine Watkins voted in favor of the proposed law. Councilmembers Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown voted against it.

Cummings and Brown said they supported the safe-sleeping expansion and the attempt to reduce the impact of oversized vehicles. But it was unclear that the city had the money, staff and partnerships to implement the programs and enforce the rules, they said.

Meyers said she supported the proposed law because it would show that city leaders are creating policies to address homelessness. That makes it easier to get state and federal funding, she said. 

“If we don’t start building something, people will just continue to suffer in Santa Cruz. And that’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to our community as a whole. We can do better, and we should be doing better, but talking, talking, talking is not working. So let’s do something, and this is one of those building blocks,” Meyers said.

In recent weeks, the council has received about 400 emails from residents. Many were against the proposed law and many were in favor of it. In Tuesday’s online meeting, a few dozen residents spoke and submitted online comments to the city’s new public comment tool. 

What do some RV drivers think?

Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen RVs and oversize trailers were parked along Delaware Avenue and Natural Bridges Drive in Santa Cruz.

Brian Ashe, 55, and Sherri Fry, 50, regularly park their 30-foot RV on Natural Bridges Drive during the day. “It’s one of the few places to park that’s out of people’s way,” Ashe said. At night, they park at the Santa Cruz Church of Christ near Morrissey Boulevard.

They likely would not be affected by the proposed parking limits since they participate in the Association of Faith Communities’ safe parking program. The nonprofit religious group Association of Faith Communities runs safe parking programs in Santa Cruz. About 35 spaces are available throughout Santa Cruz County.

Ashe said he was laid off from his retail management job in Washington state six years ago. The couple downsized to their RV. They moved to Santa Cruz four years ago to be closer to family. Using their minivan, they earn a living as drivers for food delivery mobile apps.

Ashe said he’d like to see city leaders create permanent parking spots for RVs because he spends about $100 in gas each week shuttling between the church lot, Natural Bridges Drive and a dump station at New Brighton State Beach.

Fry and other RV drivers have said they want the city to add more dumpsters in areas where RV drivers park. That would help with issues with litter and trash. She said they often take their trash to dumpsters on UC Santa Cruz’s campuses.

Longtime Santa Cruz resident Rosalie Rodriguez, 61, said she picks up litter every day on Delaware Avenue and carries it to a dumpster at the end of the street. Rodriguez lives in a 25-foot RV with her daughter and her 12-year-old grandson. Tuesday, they were parked on Delaware Avenue.

Rodriguez is opposed to the proposed law. She said she wanted to get other RV drivers to comment at Tuesday’s council meeting, but many of them didn’t know how to access the online meeting and didn’t have internet access.

If the law is adopted, Rodriguez said her family would have to find somewhere else to park. “I don’t know, up the coast,” Rodriguez said.

She said her family will “never again” participate in a local safe parking program after a manager was rude. He banged on their door when they overslept by 15 minutes, Rodriguez said. She said it was difficult to get the 12-year-old to school. 

Rodriguez had lived on Almar Avenue on the Westside since the 1970s. Because of a family dispute in 2016, she said she lost her house and became homeless. Rodriguez’s daughter had lived in a Pacific Avenue apartment but was kicked out about three years ago, Rodriguez said. Since then, Rodriguez’s daughter and her grandson have lived in an RV.

“I just want to get out of here, buy a piece of property, get up in the mountains,” Rodriguez said.

Coastal Commission approval needed

The law would update the city’s 2015 overnight parking ban and align it with a new city law that limits where and when homeless people can camp

The city’s overnight RV parking ban required a Coastal Commission permit to take effect. At a Coastal Commission hearing in 2016, several commissioners expressed concern about the law and called it “onerous,” “drastic” and “draconian.” The commission voted 11-1 to investigate the law in a public hearing. The hearing has not been scheduled.

Tuesday, Deputy City Manager Lee Butler and a lawyer at the city attorney’s office said that other California cities have passed similar RV parking limits. They said the Coastal Commission has not approved their permits.

Other cities have enforced RV parking bans without the commission’s permit. The fines for unpermitted development, which includes changes to coastal access, range from $1,000 to $15,000 per day, according to the Coastal Commission’s website.

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Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.