[Monterey County] Salinas considering ordinance on oversized vehicles

Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report dealing with homelessness.

 

The Salinas City Council is considering an ordinance prohibiting certain oversized vehicles from parking on city streets in a move that officials say aims to address public health and safety concerns raised by residents.

However, some worry it could displace lower-income or homeless residents who live in recreational vehicles, or RVs.

As currently written, the proposal would prohibit parking of oversized vehicles more than 20-feet in length or 7-feet in height, which includes boats, trailers and RVs, on city streets and property.

There are exceptions to certain commercial vehicles (and catering vehicles like taco trucks) as well as loading and unloading of noncommercial vehicles parked between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Salinas City Council first discussed the proposal Tuesday but did not vote on it, instead hoping to bring it back at a meeting later this month.

Councilmember Steve McShane — with support from councilmembers Tony Barrera and Kimbley Craig — initially raised the proposal in August 2017 after hearing complaints from constituents about oversized vehicles parking in residential areas or near businesses. 

McShane said there has been a growing number of illegally parked RVs and commercial vehicles on city streets that pose safety and health concerns.

“The safety comes in the form of these oversized vehicles blocking view or access to driveways and street signs even,” he said. “In addition, for those kinds that are living in those RVs and using those city streets as their place to park them, we’ve found there are a number of instances where the RVs are either inoperable or not properly maintained.”

He referenced feces, trash and other issues that have been left, creating problems for the city’s storm drains and streets.

The council stressed this was not targeting a single group, like homeless people.

An aspect of the issue deals with sewage running into stormwater from mobile homes, which can cost the city $10,000 per violation, said City Attorney Christopher Callihan.

While McShane did not make a motion to vote Tuesday, he is discussing the matter with community members.

“I realize that this ordinance has a hand in impacting a place for people to live, and the city is committed to working through that,” he added. “That’s why it’s taken so long. We want to make sure it took into consideration the best possible policy.”

The Facebook group, “Neighborhood Watch Help in Salinas,” discussed the proposal in a June 6 thread that McShane had requested from the page’s administrator. It reflected mixed opinions.

Donna Leonard commented, “Parking is a big problem on our street. I have several elderly neighbors that cannot see around huge trucks to get out of their driveway.”

Conversely, Felix Agoy wrote, “This is everywhere not just Salinas.. Dumb idea, wish there was more focus with the city helping these recreation centers out, to help these young kids out gangs an off the streets.”

Salinas Police Assistant Chief Manuel Martinez said his department frequently gets calls for oversized vehicles parked near corners or parks.

Current laws that can be enforced are insufficient, he said.

For example, with the Salinas ordinance giving vehicles 72 hours maximum parking in one spot, “it’s a cat and mouse game with some of the RVs,” Martinez said. “There’s nothing we can do because the clock starts again.”

The only thing officers can enforce is dumping sewage into stormwater, which also proves difficult.

With passage of the ordinance, Martinez's department would work with the city to enact a grace period for officials to notify people.

In his staff report to council, Callihan — who is tasked with evaluating projects and potential legal issues for the city — cited cities that enacted similar ordinances, including Monterey, Seaside and Marina, though other California jurisdictions have lost lawsuits for enacting such legislation.

The proposed ordinance includes posting signage notifying people entering Salinas and distinct neighborhoods. Signage had been part of the city’s initial legal defeat when it enacted an ordinance banning parking of RVs on city streets, according to Callihan’s report.

And, the city attorney said, of the seven towing companies contracted with the city to remove vehicles, only three have the capability to remove oversized vehicles. The trio sent letters saying they would not want to do so because of the complexities and costs of doing so.

The city could contract with other towing companies, though.

However, Callihan said he feels confident this ordinance can be implemented.

“I think the ordinance has a lot of teeth,” Callihan told council. “If that oversized vehicle is parked on the street, it gets towed. That’s a lot of teeth.”

The council inquired about RV parks or places where people could go, to which Callihan said there were none in city limits, though the parking lot near Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker’s Marina office offers some 15 spaces through the county’s safe parking program.

The One Starfish Safe Parking Program provides space and support for people transitioning into permanent housing, said its program director, Michael Fechter.

“I would like to be able to grow if there is more demand,” Fechter said. “We’re just there to help anybody who lives in their RV that qualifies for our program.”

While there are 13 or 14 spaces that are currently occupied at the Marina lot, this does not mean occupants are there every night. All program clients receive assistance from caseworkers. 

Fechter added that he anticipates a few spaces opening with people moving into housing.

But Monterey County Dept. of Social Services Director Elliott Robinson said there is not enough space for RV owners who would be displaced.

“It just speaks to the importance of all the county’s jurisdictions coming together to figure out a path to develop funds and implement a safe parking program so that the people who cannot afford housing but are living in their vehicles have a safe place at night,” he said.

Previous ordinances in effect along the coast, Robinson said, have dispersed the population to other communities, including RVs forced out of Lapis Road in Marina.

The movement of mobile homes to Salinas is something McShane found as well. He estimates there are between 60 to 70 RVs being used as homes in Salinas, a growing number.

For people living in vehicles who would be impacted by the proposed ordinance, many are unsure where they would go next.

During public comment for the proposed ordinance, a woman who only identified herself as Maria said she lost her house, business and now receives disability funds, though her husband works in catering. 

A mother of four, her family moved between motels until they decided to buy an RV to save money. Maria said she has been on Section 8 affordable housing waiting list for more than five years.

Since April, they have been living on Griffin Street in Salinas — a popular location for motorhomes.

“We essentially have no other options other than to live in an RV at least until we can find someone that can at least rent us a home, a room or an apartment,” Maria told council in Spanish.

Maria and others said they have tried to join RV parks but their homes have been turned away for being too old and, in Maria’s case, too many people also live there.

They try to keep their areas clean, she said, taking trash to the dump every few days so they will not warrant law enforcement forcing them to move, but added that others dump in the Alisal Creek nearby.

As to where they would move if the ordinance took effect, she said she didn't know.

But in a recently released Monterey County Civil Grand Jury report, which investigates and analyzes the operations of local government in the county, they found that homelessness affects a larger portion of the population than previously documented.

Despite the county having many people and organizations serving homeless populations, the report found there is no government or agency with ultimate authority to end homelessness in the area.

“The complexity of homelessness requires long-range committed regional planning in addition to coordinated social services,” the report reads. “Political leadership is required for the higher-level decisions and policy actions needed to meaningfully address homelessness.”

For now, McShane wants to speak with people who have oversized vehicles as well as those living in RVs. He hopes to take a vote on the ordinance next council session, scheduled for June 19.

 June 8, 2018

The Salinas Californian

By Eduardo Cuevas

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