Parking Ordinance FAQ (Update: Ordinance Passed)
2/24/22 Update: Ordinance Passed: Last night, the City Council passed the new parking ordinance, as proposed, with no changes. See final signed ordinance HERE. It will be effective on March 26, 2022. Participation by the public was substantial, with voices heard both in support and in opposition. The Council recognized that there would likely be a need to "tweak" the ordinance in the future, and specifically requested that the following be brought back to the Council: (1) Clarifying language stating explicitly that the 72 hour exception in residential zones allows RVs that are visiting residents to remain in place for 72 hours, and (2) A proposal (including staffing cost) for a permitting process for the City Council to consider.
Original 2/23/22 Post:
Questions and Answers (This is my personal perspective only. I do not speak on behalf of any other City Councilmember nor on behalf of the full City Council.):
Question: What the terms of the parking ordinance?
Answer: The basic terms:
- Residential: No RV or similar vehicles, with limited exceptions.
- Park, Square, or Alley: No RV or similar vehicles, with limited exceptions.
- Commercial, Industrial, Community Facility: RVs and similar vehicles allowed during night time (10pm to 7:30am) but not allowed during daytime (7:30am-10pm), with some limited exceptions.
- City-Owned Lots: RVs and similar vehicles allowed during business hours on City-related business.
- No RVs within 30 feet of a corner, with some limited exceptions.
- Three Exceptions: 48 hours to repair mechanical breakdown, 72 hours in residential for loading/unloading of RV owned by resident or visitor, no prohibition for commercial vehicles (e.g. construction).
- Definition of an RV: A motorhome, travel trailer, truck camper, camping trailer, or other vehicle or trailer, fifth wheel travel trailer, house car, van camper, and van conversion. It limits the ordinance to those vehicles that have been "designed or altered for human habitation for recreational, emergency, or other human occupancy."
Note: The above is offered as a summary only. For anyone wanting to dig into the details, or make sure my summary here is accurate, please read through the proposed ordinance in full. This is just my personal take on the key provisions.
Question: Why do I support the parking ordinance?
Answer: From a policy perspective, I am convinced that it’s the right choice. We had a severe encampment problem on Morris Street, for years. It was inhumane, unsafe, and unsanitary, for the vehicular unhoused, businesses, and the community at large. The City Council received hundreds of complaints about the conditions, from business owners who were losing customers, families of Little Leaguers wanting to access the fields, families of high school students who could not find parking for games and felt fearful walking the street, walkers who wanted to use the lovely Laguna de Santa Rosa trail, and cyclists who could not use the bike lanes because of the oversized vehicles parked at the curb. Advocates for the unhoused echoed the same concerns, expressing their heartfelt worry that that those on Morris Street were living in inhumane, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions. The City Council’s support of the RV Village offered a safe managed living space for 18 of the lived in vehicles from Morris Street. The parking ordinance provides a way to prevent new encampments from developing on Morris as well as elsewhere in town.
Question: Where will visitors to our town be able to park their RVs and similar vehicles be able to park?
Answer: There is plenty of parking for RVs and others visiting our town, in the many privately owned public lots: Rite Aid, CVS, grocery stores, and more. The City has no authority to issue citations in these lots, other than for fire lane or handicap parking violations. The new parking ordinance will not apply in these privately owned public lots. Additionally, the ordinance allows RVs and similar vehicles (as well as all other vehicles) to park in City lots during regular business hours, doing City-related business (in other words, visiting our local businesses).
Question: Why do we have to prohibit RVs and similar vehicles from parking in commercial/industrial areas during the day?
Answer: The problem that developed on Morris Street was an encampment of lived in vehicles. By allowing RVs and similar vehicles to park there at night, so that the owners can sleep, but requiring that they move each morning, we reduce the opportunity for a new encampments to develop. It’s important to recall how awful that situation was on Morris, for everyone in town, unhoused and others. We don’t want that situation to continue, and this is one way to meet that goal.
Question: Why can’t we let RVs and similar vehicles owned by residents or their visitors park in the neighborhoods?
Answer: In the absence of a permit system, an exception like this would be very challenging to enforce. There would be no way for a police officer or a resident to know whether an RV or similar vehicle parked in a neighborhood belonged to a resident or some visiting a resident, or was instead not associated at all with a resident. The City Council asked the police chief for a parking ordinance that would be enforceable, from a practical perspective.
Question: Would a permit system provide more flexibility?
Answer: Yes, a permit system would allow more flexibility in residential zones. The City could issue residents permits for their RVs or those of their visitors. Enforcement would be simple, because the permit would allow the authorized RVs to be easily identified, by officers or by neighbors.
Question: Why can't we have a permit system?
Answer: Our police chief was clear that he does not have the staff to administer a permit system. The City would need to hire a full time employee to handle the program. We do not have the funds to cover this expense.
Question: What will happen with the vehicular unhoused that didn't get into the RV Village?
Answer: Councilmember Una Glass and I are committed to putting our full energies into establishing additional RV Villages in West Sonoma County. The City has done a lot already: supporting the RV Village to provide living space for 18 RVs that were previously on Morris Street, paying for a full time outreach worker from West County Community Services to serve all of Sebastopol’s unhoused, supporting Park Village which offers housing options to our unhoused, and now considering the parking ordinance that will go far to prevent new encampments from developing. But there’s more to do. Councilmember Glass and I are intent on finding additional options for our unhoused, and doing our part on a County level to get more RV Villages established. There’s more work to do, and we’re up for it.
Question: Why can't we limit daytime parking in commercial/industrial, but allow it in residential areas?
Answer: If we prohibit daytime RV parking in commercial/industrial but make no changes in the residential areas, these will be the choices for RVs in our town: (1) park at night in commercial/industrial and move out of town every morning, or (2) park round the clock in residential areas and move just once every three days (to comply with the state required 72 hour rule). This choice will undoubtedly result in RVs shifting from the commercial/industrial areas to residential areas. This is patently unfair to neighborhoods. We need a City-wide solution.
Question: Is there 100% support for allowing residents and their visitors to leave their RVs and similar vehicles parked in front of their homes?
Answer: No, there is not 100% support for allowing residents to park their own or their visitors’ RVs on the street in residential neighborhoods. I know because I’ve received emails from people who absolutely find it intolerable that their neighbors are parking oversized vehicles on their blocks, obscuring views and claiming limited available parking spaces.
Question: Why can't Sebastopol set up more RV Villages inside the City limits?
Answer: The City does not own any land that isn’t already being used regularly by the public. A lesson learned from the Horizon Shine RV Village is that at least an acre is needed. The one piece of privately owned land available for sale within the City limits that met the RV Village parameters was the property that is now the home of Horizon Shine. That arrangement was made possible because the nonprofit St Vincent de Paul Sonoma County purchased that lot and leased it back to Sonoma Applied Village Services (SAVS) to operate the RV Village. The City is not aware of any other parcels, City-owned or privately-owned, within the City limits that is available and appropriate for use as an RV Village.
Question: How will the parking ordinance be enforced?
Answer: Enforcement will be by officer observation and resident complaints. For the proposed ordinance, this should be relatively simple: In residential zones any RV or similar vehicle parked there at any time will be in violation, with very few exceptions that can easily be confirmed. In commercial/industrial zones any RV or similar vehicle parked there in the daytime will be de facto in violation, and any parked there at night will be in compliance.
Question: When will the parking ordinance go into effect?
Answer: The parking ordinance will go into effect 30 after the second reading. The second reading is scheduled for February 23, 2022.
Question: How can you make your opinion about the ordinance known to the City Council?
Answer: You can attend the meeting and make your public comment during the meeting. Zoom Link;City Council Meeting Page (with agenda, reports, and zoom link). Or you can submit your written public comment by emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and addressing it to “Mayor and City Councilmembers.”