Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

Despite a “stern letter” from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Northern California Division, Crescent City Council adopted an ordinance limiting the time RVs can park on city streets to eight hours.

At the June 3 regular meeting, Mayor Blake Inscore explained the ACLU sent a second letter to the council opposing the parking ordinances in the city. The first came in March when the council was considering RV ordinances, leash laws and camping on public property. That letter delayed some decisions as city staff took another look at the proposed ordinances to ensure they aligned with the law.

City Attorney Martha Rice noted the ordinance limiting RV parking on city streets to eight hours, was introduced at the last meeting and returned Monday for adoption. It also prohibits unhitched trailers to be parked on city streets.

The ordinance requires that the vehicle be moved a minimum of 1,000 feet, about three city blocks.

Permits may be issued for city residents to park their own RVs in front of their residence, and for lodging providers to get city permission for guests who need to park RVs on the street.

RVs cannot be parked within 50 feet of a stop sign in order to maintain safe visual distances, she said.

Rice mentioned the ACLU letter had three objections. She said the first was that the ordinance was unclear whether a person was prohibited from parking in one location for eight hours, or anywhere in the city for more than eight hours. Rice said in reading the section, it did not seem confusing.

The second objection was based on the first, claiming it would amount to a ban of RVs inside city limits for more than eight hours.

“That’s not what the ordinance says,” Rice explained. “The ordinance says you can be parked in one location for eight hours. With that, the second concern goes away.”

Rice said the third objection raised a 1989 Attorney General’s opinion that cities have little authority to establish parking regulations.

“However, since the time of the Attorney General’s opinion, there have been two cases in the 2nd Appellate District, which have come to the exact opposite conclusion,” Rice said. “So, of all the concerns they stated, I don’t think the language of the ordinance is vague. It is always possible to improve language, but when read in conjunction with the rest of it, I think it’s clear that what we’re trying to do is limit parking in one location to eight hours, not within the entire city.”

Rice said she is confident in the ordinance but added it cannot prevent potential challenges.

Council input

Councilor Alex Fallman asked if the ordinance has any legal flexibility to better address the ACLU concerns. Rice said the ordinance could be made redundant in order to be clearer but one would come to understand that simply by reading it entirely.

Inscore said one ACLU claim was the ordinance would essentially force economically disadvantaged people living in RVs to leave Crescent City, abandon them and camp outside. He said the inference should not be that the only place to park an RV is within the city limits, when over 80 percent of the county is public land.

Inscore questioned why the ACLU would take on the city regarding what he called a community issue.

“Even if we enact this and feel justified in doing so, it doesn’t force someone to abandon their RV and go live in a tent. It means they have to drive their RV somewhere else to park it other than on our streets, day in and day out,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s asking for too much.”

Inscore said a free eight hours of parking is a gratuity when others pay a nightly fee to use the City’s RV park.

Councilor Jason Greenough said the council is struggling to find balance between the rights of taxpaying residents and those passing through or homesteading. He called the ordinance a good start.

City resident Natalie Farlie asked the ordinance include prohibitions for parking within 500 feet of an intersection, as well as stop signs. She said she regularly sees an RV park at the Beachfront Park staircase and occupants urinate there, rather than the public restroom just across the grass.

She noted some RVs parked on city streets also tow and use a second vehicle, which parks alongside.

Mike Thompkins asked what alternatives are offered, saying if the city or county had a designated place for such RVs, it could help.

“Maybe we’re thinking of it as a problem when it’s not so much a problem,” he said.

When asked, Inscore told Thompkins the city has 94 hookup spots at Shoreline RV Park and more than 100 at Shoreline RV Park and the Harbor District has more than 100.

“It’s not a solution I have heard anybody talk about is what if there was a low-income RV park that maybe has limitations that it’s only available for 90 days...” Inscore replied. “I think if somebody had property and space and could meet all the regulations required to do that, it sounds like something someone could offer as a potential use for the HEAP (Homeless Emergency Aid Program) money.” Inscore noted, however, that one cannot profit from the use of HEAP funds and an RV park infrastructure would need to be in place already.

Crescent City resident Ted Scott questioned the ordinance, saying parking is defined as vacating a vehicle.

“If you write that person a parking ticket, he isn’t parked if he didn’t vacate the vehicle,” Scott said. He said the state limit for parking is 72 hours, and there is no defined time limit.

“You’re not solving a problem,” he said, “You’re moving him along another 1,000 feet. Now, you’ve put him in front of my cousin’s house.”

Regarding two RVs known to park at 2nd and B Streets, Scott called it a big problem.

“I don’t know how to solve it,” he said, “and I really don’t think we do.”

One less place

Meanwhile, Walmart’s decision to prohibit overnight RV parking in their lot may result in more RVs being parked on city streets.

“We strive to maintain a clean and safe parking lot. In order to provide a better shopping experience for our customers and an optimal work environment for our associates, overnight parking is no longer allowed in our Crescent City store parking lot,” said Tiffany Wilson, director of communications for Walmart’s California press office. “In addition, Walmart has joined efforts with County Del Norte Sheriff Department to provide information and resources to people in Del Norte County who are in need.”

Asked for a list of stores that have prohibited overnight parking, Wilson said it is handled on a store-by-store basis.

The ordinance becomes effective July 3.