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Fullerton Bans RV Street Parking: Is This Criminalizing Homelessness?

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Fullerton City Council voted unanimously at their November 17 meeting to ban all RV parking on public and private streets citywide unless first obtaining a temporary permit from the police department. This has prompted concern from those living in Recreational Vehicles (RVs) in the City who feel they are being discriminated against for being poor.

Prior to voting on this, a Fullerton police officer gave a Power Point presentation that showed photos of RVs lined up on streets in certain industrial areas along Valencia where some folks live in their RVs and vehicles. Some of the photos showed trash and waste surrounding the RVs. The photos were presented as justification for banning RV parking in Fullerton, except with temporary permits for “residents.”

“‘Resident” means a person who customarily resides and maintains a place of abode or who owns land within the City, according to the ordinance,  “It shall not mean a person who maintains an address at a mailbox drop or who rents a room that is not his or her primary place of abode nor shall it mean a person who maintains only a post office box, unless that person also provides evidence of residence at a street address within the City.”

According to the last Point in Time Count (of people experiencing homelessness), the city of Fullerton has an estimated 308 unsheltered homeless people on a given night, a portion of which are living in vehicles. The exact number of people experiencing homelessness and living in vehicles is not known, but estimates place the number between 30 and 50 vehicles.

Michael Horton, a retired crane operator, and Mary Lopez are currently living in an RV on Valencia Ave. Prior to living in the RV, Horton grew up in and owned a house on Lille Ave. just a few blocks away from where he now parks.

“I wish they would lighten up on the RV people,” Lopez said. “Most people who are out here like this don’t want to be out here…People are doing the best they can. When you don’t have money to buy gas for your vehicle, to move it when they tell you to, then they come back and you’re still there, then they impound you.”

The City recently began placing flyers on all the RVs parked on Valencia, stating: “Effective December 17, 2020, RV Parking will be Prohibited on All City Streets in Fullerton. Please plan and prepare to move now before enforcement, including towing, starts.”

For the past few years, Horton and Lopez have been forced to move around due to surrounding cities passing similar ordinances. Anaheim, Buena Park, La Mirada, Placentia, and Orange all have ordinances banning or restricting RV parking.

“They do everything they can to criminalize being homeless,” Horton said. “When we buy gas, we pay state road taxes. I am a taxpayer, and it is a public street. Am I not Joe Public? It seems to me the city ordinances are prejudiced.”

Under the new ordinance, the police-issued temporary RV permits are only permitted in residential zones and are only available to “residents.”

“Any resident may obtain a temporary RV parking permit authorizing him or her to park a recreational vehicle in front of his or her residence,” the ordinance states. These permits are good for 24 hours.

Additionally, “Any out-of-town visitor may obtain a temporary RV parking permit to allow him or her to park a recreational vehicle in front of the residence in which they are visiting.” These are good for up to seven days.

At the Council meeting, only one resident, Tony Package, submitted an e-Comment in opposition to the ordinance. Package, who is on the Fullerton Police Chief’s Advisory Council said he “would prefer we take care of the homeless crisis before we take RVs off the streets.”

Nonetheless, Council approved the ordinance unanimously.

The city of Fullerton currently has a Safe Parking Program, operated by local non-profit Pathways of Hope, that says people living in their vehicles are allowed to park in a certain lot, with certain restrictions.

Pathways took over the program in May 2020. Since then, they have served a total of 20 unduplicated community members, according to David Gillanders, Executive Director of Pathway of Hope. This program is set to end December 31.

“For now, we are certainly accepting those folks who are living in their cars and need a safe place to be at night, as well as working on case plans that will end homelessness permanently,” Gillanders said.

Though there is currently no plan to extend Fullerton’s program, Gillanders said the need is huge and his group would like to try a regional approach to this program in north Orange County.

Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer supports the ordinance. “In Fullerton we provide places (Safe Parking) for Fullerton-connected persons,” he said. “I will not open our City as a refuge from other cities having RV parking bans that push them into Fullerton.”

Brooke Weitzman, the attorney representing several homeless plaintiffs in the court case Orange County Catholic Worker v. County of Orange, et al, called the RV parking ban “a surefire way to increase homelessness.”

Weitzman cited recent legal cases in Los Angeles and San Diego that found such ordinances unlawful.

“More importantly, similar to writing people tickets, it works against the interests of the City,” Weitzman said. “If the City’s interest is having more people housed and fewer people homeless, forcing the people who are in their RVs (which in many cases are seniors, often senior women, or parents with minor kids) out of their last chance at housing and onto the streets doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.”

The ordinance itself states, “The City Council hereby declares that it would have passed this Ordinance and each section, subsection, phrase or clause thereof irrespective of the fact that any one or more sections, subsections, phrases or clauses may be declared unconstitutional.”

“The intention appears to either make [people living in RVs] more homeless or force them out of the City,” Weitzman said. “Typically, if the City decides to start enforcement, they would start writing tickets, rather than taking their RVs a few days before Christmas and leaving them on the road.”

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