Noticing a hole in the county’s traffic laws, District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin steered discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting Jan. 28 toward creating a law to prevent the growth in “vehicle villages.”
Gitlin pointed to paragraph K of the California Vehicle Code 22651 which gives officers the authority to remove vehicles that have been parked or left standing on a highway or street for 72 or more consecutive hours. Gitlin was concerned Del Norte County does not have a similar law within its ordinances.
“I met with California Highway Patrol Cmdr. Larry Deepee who’s very much in support of the county adopting an ordinance that allows his agency to do its job and enforce state law. I was informed almost all 58 counties have such a local ordinance, while Del Norte County does not,” Gitlin said.
“This important law gives law enforcement the tool to address the rapid growth of vehicles, especially trailers and RVs, to simply pull off to the side of the road, public highway, right-of-way or street, to create their new home. This wonton, unchecked growth of vehicles, which I will call ‘vehicle villages,’ has created a health and hygiene issue, is a public nuisance and poses traffic hazards.”
Gitlin said the board of supervisors has received many complaints of vehicle villages, but was worried that until a local ordinance is passed in support of vehicle code 22561, law enforcement’s hands were tied and are powerless to act to remove the nuisance.
CHP Sgt. John Crouch said the problem with 22561 is it addresses abandoned vehicles left on the side of the road and does not apply to occupied vehicles.
“The spirit of the law is to take vehicles off the road that have been parked there with the intent of being left there,” Crouch told the supervisors.
He said to remove these abandoned vehicles they must be missing major components, such as tires, wheels or windshields. “A lot of times, those are cars that have been stolen and stripped, and dumped on the side of the road or something similar to that,” he said.
Crouch added there needs to be an ordinance to address vehicles parked on residential streets or in front of family homes that are continuously moved.
District 5 Supervisor Bob Berkowitz wanted to know from Crouch how severe he felt the problem was of illegally parked vehicles in Del Norte County.
“Multiple times I’ve heard officers come in after their shift saying, ‘I wish the county had an ordinance for this.’ There are cars there right now that are abandoned and if they don’t meet that abandoned section, there’s nothing we can do about them,” Crouch said.
Berkowitz then pointed to specific problem areas in the region.
“We’ve had RVs parked on Iowa and Temple (streets), for weeks and weeks and weeks and we just can’t do anything about it. So you think this ordinance would help solve that problem?” he asked.
Crouch said a new ordinance would help. The process, he explained, would allow the CHP to follow up a complaint about an illegally parked RV or car and try to contact the owner to have the vehicle moved. Next, a written warning would be left on the vehicle before it would eventually be towed at the owner’s expense.
Two residents of Iowa Street shared their frustrations with the supervisors of people illegally living on theirs and nearby streets in RVs and campers.
Katie Gavin presented photos of adults living in a camper on nearby Dakota Street not hooked up to sewer or water service and who regularly burn trash and plastic. She said the photo was six months old and she was still waiting for a response from the Del Norte Sheriff’s Office after filing a complaint weeks ago.
“I hate to see what the next six months is going to bring to us with this problem. Numerous times, residents in the area have to call Crescent City Fire Department because there were fires started on Dakota Street, making it hard to breathe. It’s become common to see fire trucks drive down Iowa Street onto Broad Street; they know where Broad Street is,” Gavin said.
Greg Bianchi told the supervisors he, too, has grown frustrated by the lack of response from the CHP and Sheriff’s Office after someone apparently has moved into an abandoned vehicle. He said the proposed ordinance doesn’t address people living in abandoned vehicles on the side of the road, but “it’s a step in the right direction.”
“If he’s not in it 24-7, maybe you can move it when he’s not occupying it,” Bianchi recommended. “There’s the ordinance again. You got a gray area. You can move it when the occupancy is not available. And who approaches the individual and asks them if they have the right to stop that vehicle or to that home? Are they using it for a home or just kind of a way place, a place to hang out while they’re conducting other business in town?”
District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard brought up his concern about vehicles that moved off Pebble Beach and moved out to county roads at Pacific Shore. He asked Sheriff Erik Apperson to weigh in on his department’s ability to clear the area if a local version of 22651 was passed.
Apperson said it would apply to RVs; however, it would not to abandoned trailers without a motor.
“Typically, campers associated with the vehicle got it there and in that case, the vehicle does apply to this section,” Apperson explained, adding a new ordinance would give his department another tool in his arsenal. “This isn’t going to dramatically change the way we do business, but it’s going to problem solve a couple of issues we can’t currently problem solve.”