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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 5:20 am | Fair 44º


City Ordinance Committee Denies Plan to Crack Down on RV Parking

But the Santa Barbara panel wants to see a watered-down version to ban dwellers near schools, parks and recreational facilities.

To the relief of advocates of a growing number of indigent people living in RVs, the Santa Barbara ordinance committee on Tuesday rejected a proposal from the Public Works Department granting it more authority to crack down on RV parking where the department considers the practice problematic.

However, committee members — all three of them Santa Barbara City Council members — said they would like to see a watered-down version of the proposal restrict the parking of RVs near schools, parks and recreational facilities.

The amended proposal could come before the committee as soon as next week and, if passed, could land shortly after on the agenda of the full seven-member City Council.

On Tuesday, city staff members from not only the Public Works Department, but also police and fire departments reported to the committee on why the RVs are considered a problem. The officials said some RV occupants have been known to illegally dump trash or even human waste on the street. They also said the RVs are oftentimes packed with an entire family’s belongings and therefore pose a fire hazard. In addition, they said some RV dwellers have a tendency to gather in large groups and engage in criminal activities such as drug dealing, assaults and prostitution.

Two of three committee members — Das Williams and Grant House — were unmoved, saying the Public Works Department seemed to be overreaching by asking for the power to unilaterally decide which streets need to be cleared.

“I do think there is a problem, and I do want to give staff a tool to deal with that problem,” Williams said. “But to have this ordinance without any criteria is a blank check, and I’m not about to give a blank check to further criminalize poverty in this city.”

Council member Dale Francisco supported the staff’s proposal.

“This ordinance seems to me to be a very simple thing,” he said. “There is obviously a huge problem affecting neighborhoods and businesses and schools. This ordinance seems to me to be very precisely targeted; very simple and straightforward.”

Tuesday’s meeting drew passionate speakers from RV dwellers, as well as from employees of businesses who have felt threatened by the seedy behavior they described on the part of some RV inhabitants.

Nancy McCrady, a local advocate for the homeless, said people in RVs have been unfairly maligned.

“I see people in their RVs cleaning up their neighborhoods with bags,” said McCrady, who said she had to live in an RV for 24 years. “People are really, really trying their best. It’s really hard, because there’s a waiting list for housing. … There’s no room anywhere. The shelters are all full. … So what are you going to do with people, throw them out in the bushes again?”

Brian Gannon, an employee of a business on the 500 block of East Montecito Street, said employees have had unpleasant run-ins with some of the nearby RV dwellers.

“I myself witnessed urine and feces dumped in the bushes,” he said. “And I think in retaliation of us reporting this to the police, we’ve had fecal matter thrown at the walls of our business.”

Gannon added that a young man was once thrown through a company window. “I myself have witnessed drug use, drug dealing actually taking place right at our doorsteps,” he said.

Also in attendance was Santa Barbara schools Superintendent Brian Sarvis, who came to ask the committee to keep parked RVs away from schools.

“We would like to have you specifically ban parking for RVs within 100 feet of schools,” he said. “Many of the dangers are frankly unknown, but no parent should be needlessly worried because of the cluster of RVs around the playground of a school.”

Another speaker was Gary Linker, executive director of the nonprofit group New Beginnings, which attracted national media attention for its successful “Safe Parking” program allowing people to sleep in their vehicles in certain parking lots around town.

Linker said his lots serve about 70 people and are full, but he is working to expand.

“We do have a 20- to 25-person waiting list, and we have had to turn people away,” he said. “There are people in the streets who do want to be in our program, but we can’t find a place to put them.”

He added that the organization is in the process of looking to open an RV park.

“We’re trying to find a location that could have an eight- to 10-trailer park that people could stay in before they’re going into housing,” he said. “It would be another enticement for people to be on the list to go into housing.”

On Tuesday, House criticized the proposed ordinance for its vagueness, noting, for example, its failure to define what constitutes an excessive number of RVs on a city block.

“What’s the number? Is it two, three, five RVs in a neighborhood?” he said. “What if they are not causing a problem?”

Although Francisco disagreed with Williams and House, he voted with them, saying their request to have the proposal brought back in weaker form was “better than nothing.”

“But we had a perfectly good ordinance in front of us that would have solved a lot more problems,” he said.

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