Santa Barbara may ban RV street parking

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On Tuesday, Santa Barbara City Council will discuss how to further regulate motor home-dwellers.

The city has been tightening rules regarding RVs for years. The latest ordinance up for a vote would ban oversized vehicles from all city streets unless the owners have obtained certain permits.

Phil Parson has been living in Santa Barbara for 17 years. He volunteers at local theaters and has a son and brother who live in the area. “I have roots here, and I don’t want to leave.” (Kathryn Barnes/KCRW) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Phil Parson, 73, has been living in his motor home in Santa Barbara for the past three and half years, ever since his girlfriend lost the home they were living in to foreclosure. They’re on a wait list for affordable housing, but the current wait time is estimated at ten years.

At night, they park their motor home in a city commuter lot. There are 21 lots within Santa Barbara and Goleta that open some spaces up to vehicle-dwellers during the night. Nonprofit organization New Beginnings manages the Safe Parking Program, which currently helps 140 people (105 vehicles) and has about 80 people on the wait list. One requirement is that vehicles are off the lot by the morning.

“Every day you wake up at 6am and the first thing you think is, ‘where can I safely go this time?'” said Parson. “I constantly live with the stigma of knowing that somebody doesn’t want me here.”

He gets that sense daily from people walking by, comments made and cars that honk as they drive by. Parson makes a point to never enter or leave his motor home when people are around.

“It’s not easy. It’s not fun. We don’t want this lifestyle,” he said.

Santa Barbara City Councilmembers Randy Rowse and Frank Hotchkiss have led the effort to crack down on RV parking, saying that people shouldn’t be “camping in neighborhoods.” But the council is divided on the issue.

Installing signs like this one is a recommendation City Attorney Ariel Calonne will present to City Council on Tuesday. (City of Santa Barbara) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

In November, the city council voted 5-2 to draft a new law that prohibits parking. Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo objected.

RV rights activists have been preparing for the city council vote, which may take place on Tuesday or be delayed in order to take public comments into account.

Phil Parson says he doesn’t know what he’ll do if the ban is passed.

“If my motor home runs well enough, I wouldn’t have any option except to leave town and give up everything I have here,” he said. “You might see people having to live on the streets, in the shadows somewhere. I don’t see myself living on the street, but anything’s possible.”