The City of Santa Barbara is tightening its rules for recreational vehicle parking and will ban RV parking within 500 feet of schools and continue prohibiting “excessive” numbers — two or more RVs — from parking close to hospitals, child care centers, museums and other institutions.

City Council members voted 6-1 this week to approve the changes. The ordinance amendments have to be officially approved with a second reading, likely to be included on a future consent agenda.

The municipal code makes it generally illegal to use any recreational vehicle for sleeping, camping or human habitation in public parks, public parking lots, public beaches or on public streets in Santa Barbara and it applies to motor homes, truck campers and camping trailers.

“The story begins,” as City Attorney Ariel Calonne told the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday, in 2002 with an ordinance to forbid overnight RV parking on city streets. An appeals court upheld the ban but struck down the city’s limited signage.

After a 2008 settlement with Homes on Wheels, the city changed the rules to ban “excessive” RV parking in certain areas, within 500 feet of facilities including schools, child care centers, parks, public libraries, museums, community centers, city or nonprofit recreational facilities, homeless shelters, churches, hospitals, health-care facilities and designated safe routes to school.

“Excessive” wasn’t defined, so the City Council specified “excessive” as two or more RVs. The 500-foot distance is interpreted as a city block, not a radius from the institution, transportation manager Browning Allen said.

Also on Tuesday, the City Council voted to ban all RV parking within 500 feet of schools. Many schools already have signs prohibiting RV parking nearby and the others haven’t expressed concerns, Allen said.

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo voted against the changes because she believes three or more RVs is excessive, not two. When she asked about families living in RVs dropping off students at school, Allen said they would have to park one block farther away and walk the child to school.

Elizabeth Prescott, a Santa Barbara resident who lives in an RV with her husband, told the City Council that RV parking in industrial areas isn’t bothering anyone.

“We should start being judged for our actions, not being lump sum. We get harassed, ourselves,” she said, recounting a time a woman rushed over taking pictures and accused her husband of doing drugs while he used a torch to light the hot water tank.

Robert Burke, a frequent commenter at public meetings, said he was homeless off and on for 18 years and lived in a station wagon, doing his daily ablutions at the gym.

“When you go into a neighborhood and buy a house, there’s a certain expectation of clean streets but streets belong to the people, and I’m people,” he said. “So if you zone them out of any place to go, then where are they going to go?”

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said the RV parking enforcement is mostly complaint-driven and the majority of those come from people who are bothered by the physical presence of RVs, not behavior of the inhabitants.

There is the occasional complaint of illegal dumping, loitering or other behaviors associated with the RV parking, Harwood said.

Officers try to get voluntary compliance with “RV dwellers” or look at enforcement options under the parking ordinances or sleeping and camping ordinances, Harwood said.

“We’ve had some challenges lately in terms of enforcement because of court decisions,” he said.

“The best advice I can give people would be to find space in one of the few parks in this region, the motor home parks, try to get into the Safe Parking Program or find private property and obtain permission to park and be on private property,” Harwood said.

A court recently found a Los Angeles ordinance banning people from living in vehicles as unconstitutional. Santa Barbara bans using RVs parked in the street as living quarters, which Calonne believes is constitutional, but the municipal code’s mention of “temporary recreational vehicles” is broad and undefined, he said.

“It could be as simple as a sedan with a sleeping bag in the backseat,” he said.

The council decided to follow his recommendation and take out the mention of temporary recreational vehicles. 

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at