Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

At its Monday meeting, Crescent City Council introduced an ordinance reducing the amount of time oversized — namely recreational vehicles — may park on city streets to eight hours.

Mayor Blake Inscore has noted during interviews that around the city, several motorhomes of varying size park for extended periods of time on public streets, moving every 72 hours, as currently mandated.

City Manager Eric Wier explained the ordinance first came to the council in February and was set for April 1 adoption.

“However, it was tabled at that (February) meeting due to the letter that we received from the ACLU,” Wier said. “We asked our city attorney to revise the ordinance.”

The ACLU letter said the city cannot have a legitimate interest in “casting such a vague and overbroad net of criminality over the act of sleeping in one’s own car,” which, it said, will unconstitutionally criminalize homelessness.

The ACLU letter raised questions related to due process, citing case law from Los Angeles, and calling several of the proposed ordinance requirements too vague to follow.

City Attorney Martha Rice said the controversial part of previous ordinances was adopted years before, referring to the prohibition on sleeping inside vehicles on city streets.

“What we were proposing to do in this ordinance was just move it to a new section of the code where it made more sense,” Rice said, “but upon receiving the concerns from the ACLU and other members of the public, which did include... applying the law equally to everybody and there are times when people may want to take a nap in their vehicle or pull over because they are sleepy.”

Rice said staff recommended removal of the sleeping prohibition.

When it comes to lodging, or residing, in vehicles, she said it’s been an area of litigation, since lodging is not legally defined, making it hard to differentiate between lodging from permissible activities.

“We have drafted in this ordinance, removing... the prohibition against sleeping and lodging in a motor vehicle provision,” Rice said, “and, with that, also removed the provision that allowed permits for sleeping and lodging during certain events. That would no longer be necessary.”

Rice suggested the city could later discuss establishing certain areas of the city where parking times would be limited, which could be added to park regulations.

When Mayor Blake Inscore asked about the removal of sleeping and lodging prohibitions, Rice said the revised ordinance will be easier to enforce and will be subject to fewer legal challenges.

“Currently, you’re allowed to park up to 72 hours in a single location without moving,” Rice said. Wier clarified that the ordinance refers to oversized vehicles, allowing them to park no longer than eight hours in any 24-hour period.

When Inscore asked if the ordinance will apply to passenger vehicles, Wier said no.

“If we cannot address, for fear of a legal challenge, people sleeping in their cars around town, we’ll take sleeping off the table,” Inscore said. “But is it unreasonable to think that cars should be moving after eight hours?”

Rice said staff will come back with a list of particular areas where extended camping will be prohibited, and those can be addressed in determining regulations for local parks.

With no public comment, Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime asked how the ordinance will be enforced.

Rice said the eight-hour clock would start at the time of observation or when a complaint is filed.

“Part of it is obviously education and warnings,” Rice said, “and if people refuse to move, they get a citation.”

Police Chief Ivan Minsal said the city will first conduct outreach to inform people of the new regulations.

When it comes to enforcement, he said rather than marking a vehicle, officers would snap a photo of it, and note the location, and give eight hours to move or remove it.

“There will always be exceptions and mitigating circumstances but the officer can take the initiative and write a parking citation, which will later be handled through the courts,” Minsal said.

Inscore asked if the ordinance will give officers the tools and clarity to better deal with extended parking of oversized vehicles.

“This will refine it for the betterment of our community,” Minsal said, noting it will also give opportunities for people to move the vehicles, as defined. He said it will also give officers the ability to explain the nature of the ordinance, as well as safety concerns.

Councilor Isaiah Wright asked how it was determined that vehicle owners should move the vehicle at least 1,000 feet to comply with the ordinance.

“A thousand feet is a little over three city blocks,” Wier responded. “That was the basis, that you had to move it a significant (distance) in order to repark and 1,000 feet was a nice, easy, round number that can be measured in blocks.”

The council voted 4-0, councilor Jason Greenough absent, to introduce the ordinance. It will be brought back for adoption June 3 and will become effective 30 days after, just prior to July 4 activities in Crescent City.

Some options

The city has several RV parks with varying prices. Some area RV parks offer monthly rates, ranging from $385 to over $500 per month. At $400 per month, the daily cost comes to just over $13. Parks also offer nightly rates in the $30 to $50 range.

One less option

One option to parking on the street may have gone away, with a recent change in policy by Walmart.

Most RVers know some Walmart stores will allow RV parking overnight,but prohibit connecting to utilities, setting up outdoor furniture or leaving travel trailers on the lot. At times, many RVs can be seen at the Crescent City location on a single night.

Monday, Crescent City Walmart Assistant Manager Megan Reynoso said the entire corporation is rolling up its parking lots to overnight camping, as a way of addressing panhandling issues.

While one can still bring an RV to Walmart, park in the lot and shop, the chain will be prohibiting overnight parking where the RV is used as a place to sleep.

Reynoso said the store now offers flyers to panhandlers, which direct them to local or county services and resources.

Reynoso said the Crescent City store began closing overnight on April 24, and the overnight RV parking restrictions went into effect about a week later.

It is not yet known to what extent the new rules may be prompting RVers to use local RV parks or city streets.