SANTA CRUZ — The city of Santa Cruz’s plan to ban large-vehicle overnight street parking is in need of state review, a coastal public watchdog panel ruled Thursday.
Shortly before a permit appeal hearing on the city Oversized Vehicle Ordinance this week, California Coastal Commission officials reversed an earlier recommendation not to intervene. Initially, commission staff flagged environmental justice concerns with the law, but ultimately wrote that they felt that “the public access impact in question is negligible” in their report ahead of Thursday’s hearing.
The ordinance language includes a citywide ban on large-vehicle street and parking-lot parking from midnight to 5 a.m. daily, except with a limited visitor permit or during certain emergencies. Members of the local Santa Cruz Cares group filed the appeal, asking the Coastal Commission to step in and assert jurisdictional authority as the ordinance applies to coastal access.
In May, the group of citizens appealed the new city law, which has languished, unenforced, since its Nov. 9 approval, throughout numerous similar city-level appeal hearings. In a description of its concerns listed on the Santa Cruz Cares website, the group accuses the city of working toward “directly creating more unsheltered homelessness.”
The city, according to a July 8 letter to the commission from Planning & Community Development Director Lee Butler and Deputy City Attorney Cassie Bronson, is aiming to reduce long-term oversized-vehicle entrenchment.
“One of the Council’s goals in passing the OV (oversized vehicle) Amendments is to break the cycle of entrenchment and encourage OV dwellers to, at minimum, spend the night at a Safe Parking location, where they will be able to access restrooms and trash facilities, reducing the amount that OV dwellers urinate/defecate/litter on City streets, sidewalks, and nearby areas, such as ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas),” the city letter stated.
Significant loss of public access
In a late agenda addendum, commission staff wrote that it had “received significant new information” in the prior week, the cause of their reversal. Namely, staff wrote in a follow-up report, impacts on coastal access were greatly increased by a less-discussed provision of the law that would disallow all oversized vehicle parking — 24 hours a day and 365 days a year — within 100 feet of any crosswalk, intersection, stop sign, official electric flashing device or approach to any traffic signal.
“The city estimates that this restriction would entirely eliminate about 54% of oversized vehicle parking areas in the coastal zone 24-7, and this number may actually be higher,” Central Coast District Director Dan Carl said late into the commission’s meeting Thursday.
Chairperson Donne Brownsey said she supported Coastal Commission oversight as “the absolute correct recommendation, here.”
“I thought that the NSI (no substantial issue) — we were just being asked to make a decision based on absolutely deficient information,” Brownsey said.
Commissioners unanimously approved the substituted “substantial issue” finding recommendation. No commission members requested an opportunity to hear debate on the decision Thursday.
Supportive parking programs continue
On social media Thursday, Santa Cruz Cares members characterized the commission’s vote as a win.
“We hope that the City Council moves to offer other services without criminalization in the defeat of this ordinance,” the group posted to several social media platforms. “We can still have safe parking sites and sanitization aid like mobile gray and blackwater services, garbage pickup and caseworker outreach without ticketing and towing people into oblivion.”
Next, the matter will be placed on an unspecified future agenda as a “de novo hearing” before the Coastal Commission. This week’s vote mirrors a similar finding the Coastal Commission made in 2016, when an earlier version of the city’s overnight recreational vehicle parking ban was first appealed to the body. Commissioners at the time told the city that if it was going to ban RV parking on city streets, officials would have to create somewhere else for drivers to go, beyond a half-baked plan to send drivers to a privately operated SafeSpaces program run out of faith organization’s parking lots.
Santa Cruz officials have contended that the latest ordinance is designed to address public safety, health, nuisance and coastal resource concerns associated with persons who might use oversized vehicles as a place to sleep overnight, according to the commission report. Along with setting restrictions on vehicle parking, the ordinance outlines standards for creating 55 safe overnight parking spaces in three “tiers” of availability. In tiers one and two, three emergency spaces have been set aside and six short-term reservation-only spaces, respectively, thus far. Another 30 or more tier-two spaces are authorized. In the city letter to the commission, officials said the parking programs had been thus far underutilized and were frequently vacant overnight.
An additional 22 spaces, available day and night at the National Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park, will be part of the tier-three safe parking program contracted to the Association of Faith Communities and overseen by The Free Guide nonprofit group, which is aiming for an early-August launch, according to Free Guide Executive Director Evan Morrison.
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