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Fullerton will start enforcing parking regulations on street where homeless live in RVs

Several RVs are parked on Valencia Drive in Fullerton, where the city will begin enforcing parking restrictions.
Several RVs are parked on Valencia Drive in Fullerton, where the city will begin enforcing parking restrictions.
(Ben Brazil)

Fullerton will begin enforcing parking restrictions on a street where several homeless people have been living in their recreational vehicles.

The City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to implement the regulations on Valencia Drive between Raymond Avenue and State College Boulevard. The city had stopped enforcing the parking regulations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now homeless individuals who live on Valencia Drive and activists who have been helping them are concerned about where they will go.

Father Dennis Kriz, a Fullerton pastor and homeless advocate, said the homeless living on Valencia may be forced to move into nearby communities.

“Since the city and county have not been able to identify any places to direct the people to, either the RVs will end up staying where they are on Valencia and continue to irritate the business owners there, or most of the RV dwellers will pick up and leave to go elsewhere, putting the burden of dealing with them on other nearby communities,” Kriz said. “As such, nothing will be solved until the city and county identify where these people can legally go.”

The RV parking on Valencia Drive has been a point of contention over the last several months.

In November, the City Council approved an ordinance that bans all RV parking on public and private streets without a special permit.

The city then delayed enforcement of the ordinance after Brooke Weitzman, an attorney who represents homeless people in Orange County, sent a demand letter in December telling the city to delay enforcement of the ordinance because it’s unconstitutional.

The parking regulations that were approved this week don’t include the RV ordinance. City Manager Ken Domer said in an email that the city, which disputes Weitzman’s claim of unconstitutionality, will begin enforcing the RV ordinance by May 1.

He said the city will on Monday begin enforcing the parking regulations, which include three-hour commercial vehicle parking and two-hour non-commercial vehicle parking limitations, among other regulations.

Domer said the city distributed flyers notifying people of the parking regulations. Those flyers have referral information for homeless support services.

Domer also said his staff has been on Valencia almost every day to attempt to connect people with support services. The city is working with faith-based and homeless provider groups.

“We will always seek to offer assistance first to someone who is experiencing homelessness, which includes working with the faith-based groups,” Domer said. “The amount of outreach directed at Valencia this past month has been very extensive and has included Pathways of Hope, Wound Walk, CityNet, the Tri-Parish Council, County of Orange Behavioral Health, among others.”

At the City Council meeting, a few public speakers spoke out against the parking regulations.

“We can’t afford to get rent to live somewhere — I’m fighting for disability myself and I had a stroke,” said a man named James, who said he was homeless and living near Valencia Drive. “My understanding is that you guys are just trying to pass the buck, but there’s no solutions being created. This is a group of people that once you kick us out, we’re homeless. I can’t afford to move five times a day and get ticketed hundreds of dollars a week. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared for my life, my livelihood. I don’t want to be homeless, and you guys just made it illegal to be homeless in Fullerton.”

Resident Cary Johnson said there are several RVs parked in front of his condominium complex.

“I understand this is not meant to disparage or be disrespectful of any of the other citizens here speaking and promoting their side, but there is lots of trash,” Johnson said. “My wife and I are willing to give funds, time, whatever to help support all citizens, whether they’re unhoused or not. But there has to be a solution. I would just ask you to find a solution for that and we’re willing to be part of that solution. But currently it’s just kind of untenable.”

At the meeting, Councilman Ahmad Zahra said voting to enforce the parking regulations was a difficult decision to make. He said the nonprofits have done as much as they could.

“Unfortunately, we can’t help everyone, and we hope we could, but that’s oftentimes not the case,” Zahra said. “But as a governing body, we have to strike also a balance. And we also have to look at the other side, which is our other residents who are also a part of this equation. And so I still encourage everybody who is in an RV or motorhome to really seek out our services.”

Earlier this month, the city sent Weitzman’s firm, Elder Law and Disability Rights (ELDR) Center, a letter stating that the RV ordinance is constitutional, but the city will be making a few minor revisions to the ordinance. Domer said the city will slightly change the definition of RV and will make more clear the guidelines the patrol and parking enforcement use prior to issuing a citation.

Weitzman’s demand letter stated that “Fullerton seeks to criminalize merely parking or stopping on public or private property any vehicle capable of human habitation.”

Domer said the RV definition in the ordinance will be changed from “any vehicle or trailer which is capable of human habitation ...” to “any vehicle or trailer which is designed or equipped for human habitation ...”

Weitzman said her firm hasn’t formally responded to the city’s letter, but it doesn’t change its stance. She said her firm may file a lawsuit if the city begins enforcing the RV ordinance.

“Nothing in their letter changes any of those facts, that a law that allows the immediate towing and targets all drivers of probably all vehicles, but at a minimum all RVs who park at any time, for any reason, anywhere in the city, is clearly unconstitutional,” Weitzman said.

The population made up the majority of Orange County jail bookings between 2010 and 2018, according to a recent report from a UCLA research team.

Weitzman did say that the parking regulations that were approved this week are harmful to homeless people, but they are not the law that her firm is currently in dispute with the city about.

“Those are things that they did already have, either in place or in the works, for things that apply the same to everyone,” Weitzman said of the parking regulations. “And they don’t ban people from being in the city.”

Kriz believes that the city should renew its safe parking program for the people living out of their RVs and cars.

Fullerton was the first Orange County city to have a safe parking program, which ended a few months ago. The program provided a safe parking lot for homeless people living out of their cars, but the program came to an end after it ran out of funding.

Kriz’s church, St. Philip Benizi Church, is part of the Fullerton Tri-Parish Homelessness Collaborative, which advocated for the safe parking program. The faith group has also worked with the city to connect the homeless people on Valencia with homeless services.

Both Kriz and Weitzman have pointed out, like many other homeless advocates, that homeless people rightfully resist going to shelters, which have faced COVID-19 outbreaks and an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit for sexual harassment and poor conditions.

Domer said the city will not be considering another safe parking program but would partner on a regional response.

“The RV dwellers all have our cards [and cellphone numbers],” Kriz said of him and his fellow activists. “We will be able to remain in contact with them wherever they go and will continue to advocate for some place for them to legally park and exist. The city has maintained that only in Fullerton has enforcement been a problem, we believe by scattering the RVs across the county, this will come to be seen as a countywide problem.”

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