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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 12th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 2

Lompoc passes new parking rules on two troublesome streets

By CHRIS MCGUINNESS

As the cost of living in California continues to skyrocket, a growing population of people in the state are living in their vehicles. The trend has led to clashes between those people and cities trying to enforce parking ordinances; the city of Lompoc is no exception.

Ground zero for the issue appears to be Aviation Drive and Cordoba Avenue, streets located in the northern part of the city. The two streets are heavily parked, and many of the vehicles are used as long-term living spaces. The issue was severe enough that the Lompoc City Council took action to address street-parking complaints from local businesses, the Lompoc Police Department, and even some of its own members.


NUSIANCE?
A recent Google image shows an RV parked on Aviation Drive. Lompoc police say people parking on this and another nearby street have garnered nuisance complaints and are skirting the city’s long-term parking laws.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GOOGLE MAPS

"We are down there every day, and we've got to do something about it," police Sgt. Kevin Martin told members of the council at a March 5 meeting.

According to data presented in a city staff report, there have been 195 contacts between police and people or vehicles on the two streets since January 2016. Those calls were in reference to crimes and violations that include illegally dumping sewage and trash, reports of unlicensed vehicles, petty theft, and even domestic violence.

The majority of those contacts, however, were for violations of the city's long-term parking ordinance, which bans vehicles from being parked on a city street for more than 72 hours. However, many of those parking on the two streets stay far longer than 72 hours, skirting the ordinance by moving the vehicles just a few inches and resetting the clock.

It's something that Martin said the police department deals with constantly, playing what he called a "cat-and-mouse game of inches" with the vehicles and their owners.

"This area is heavily parked, and these people are very aware of California parking laws," he said.

When the Sun visited Aviation Drive and Cordoba Avenue in the evening of March 7, several large RVs, small cars, and trucks were parked in the area. Blankets were pinned up in some windows and belongings crammed in between doors and roofs. Trash spilled into the gutters. People milled about, smoking a cigarette, fixing a lock, dumping buckets and coolers of liquid.

The only person who would speak to the Sun didn't want to use his name. He said he was planning to move to Las Vegas soon, but he wasn't sure where his neighbors would go if they were forced to seek parking elsewhere. They'd probably be chased off by police and need to find new spots every few nights, he said.

The council voted unanimously on March 5 to ban parking on the two streets between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The council also passed another ordinance giving the city power to create parking permit programs. This would allow employees at nearby businesses to get passes to park, and could eventually be extended to other streets in the city, according to City Manager Jim Throop.

The council also voted to amend another ordinance that bans using a vehicle for a residential purpose, including sleeping, on any city street. Due to a recent decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, City Attorney Jeff Malawy said the council needed to add an exemption stating that police can't cite individuals under the ordinance unless there is an available bed in a homeless shelter or safe parking lot within one mile of the city limits.

Malawy said the exemption would not stop police from issuing citations under the overnight parking ban on Aviation and Cordoba.

"One is a ban on residential use of vehicles and the other is a parking restriction," Malawy said.

The new parking restrictions would not be enforced until the city could put up proper signage. Martin said that the department would work to inform those currently parking on the street about the changes. He hoped to use a notification process similar to what was used last September to clear out a large homeless encampment in the Santa Ynez Riverbed.

"We've seen that's already worked, and I think we can apply that same methodology to address the parking issues in those areas," he said.

Not everyone was convinced that the parking restrictions would stop the issues. At the meeting, Councilmember Victor Vega wondered aloud if simply banning parking on the two streets would push people living in their vehicles to other areas of the city.

"My concern is that, if we ban both streets, they're going to end up in the Walmart shopping center ... and affect our business district because we don't have a safe parking program," he said.

Such parking programs allow cities to set up designated parking lots or other areas for people who live in their cars to do so safely. At the meeting, Throop said that the city had been developing a safe parking plan, but recent departure of staff had put it on hold. He did say the effort would be restarted once recently hired replacements come on board.

Councilmember Jim Mosby characterized the vote as a "warning shot" for violators and an initial attempt at addressing the larger issue.

"I think it's important to understand that we plan on bringing forward a safe parking program and that this is a first step," Mosby said.

Lompoc resident Deb Williams noted that the issue on the two streets was tied to the more complex problems of a lack of affordable housing and services for the homelessness or those living on the brink of it.

"Where are they going to go? What facilities do we have for people that can't afford a place to live?" she asked the council. "I think this is more than a City Council problem."

 

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com. Nick Powell contributed to the reporting of this story. 




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