Torrance Orders Law Drafted on Living in Vehicles

Times Staff Writer

An emergency ordinance restricting living in vehicles parked on city streets will be brought before the City Council on Tuesday after a resident complained that someone who periodically lives in a recreational vehicle parked on her street had emptied a portable septic tank onto the street, creating a potential health hazard.

Drafting of the ordinance was ordered last week after the council considered and rejected three proposed ordinances that would have restricted parking vehicles in residential front yards, prohibited “habitation” in vehicles parked on city streets and limited how long someone could live in a vehicle parked on private property.

New Versions Due

New versions of the other two ordinances will be brought back before the council in four to five weeks.


The council directed the city attorney to rewrite the ordinances after concluding that they were too broad and, as Councilman Dan Walker said, “open to wild interpretations.”

“It looks to me like we have overkill here,” said Councilman Mark Wirth echoing the concern that the proposed ordinances could affect more people than intended.

The rejected ordinances would have:

- Prohibited habitation in vehicles parked on public property.

- Limited the use of vehicles on private property for habitation to 14 consecutive days or 30 days in a calendar year.

- Banned parking on residential property except on a paved driveway.

There seemed to be a consensus among the City Council, city staff and residents for the ban on people living in vehicles parked on public property, including parks and alleys, but some division arose over the other proposed ordinances.

Front-Yard Parking

The council expressed concern that limiting parking to paved driveways could lead some people to pave their entire front yards. It also could prevent people from washing their cars on front lawns or parking their cars in yards temporarily on street-sweeping days to avoid tickets.

Mayor Jim Armstrong said the intent of the law should be more specifically addressed to what he called “front-yard junkyards,” where vehicles are disassembled and worked on for weeks or stored for months.

“Property rights are very important rights, but they are not absolute,” Armstrong said. “People should not use their yards for junkyards.

“There’s not a general pattern of problems, but we don’t have the tools to remedy even those isolated cases. This ordinance would give us that tool.”

Operative Cars Allowed

Monte McElroy, the city environmental quality administrator who oversees property maintenance problems, said current law allows residents to park vehicles on their yards as long as the vehicles are operative.

“If the wheels are there, if the engine is there, if the battery is there and the vehicle can be moved, then it’s legal,” McElroy said. “Some families have four or five drivers and not a lot of street frontage for parking. Other people prefer not to use their garages for parking.”

Several South Bay cities already have ordinances prohibiting front yard parking, including Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Lawndale, Lomita and Inglewood. It has been illegal to park vehicles on front yards in Redondo Beach since 1968.

Many of these same cities also have laws that prohibit living in a vehicle parked on public streets or private property. In Inglewood, the problem is addressed with an ordinance that prohibits vehicles from hooking up to water and electrical lines in homes.

Concern for Visitors

The Torrance City Council discussed how to address problems of people living in vehicles on private property.

Council members expressed concern over how the 14-day limit would affect visiting relatives coming from long distances and staying for a longer period, particularly at homes with limited space.

McElroy tried to assuage that concern by saying the ordinances would be enforced only after complaints. She said that if neighbors realized that the habitation of the vehicle was only temporary, they probably would not complain.

“I’ve worked for the city 13 years, and find that people only complain if it is a real problem,” she said.

Dee Hardison, president of the Southeast Torrance Homeowners Assn., said she, too, believed the “everyday person is not going to get hurt no matter how the ordinance is written. It is the guy who puts up his car on blocks for months that they’ll go after.”

Still, she cautioned, “while we need these ordinances, let’s not make them so restrictive that they create more harm than good.”