LA reinstates controversial rules around vehicle dwelling

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Activists at LA City Hall protest renewed parking restrictions, July 30, 2019. Photo by Anna Scott.

People living in vehicles may not park overnight in residential neighborhoods, under restrictions reinstated Tuesday by the LA City Council. The vote came after nearly an hour of testimony from opponents, who started chanting “shame on you!” once the item passed, forcing council members to pause the meeting.

Besides banning sleeping in cars, vans or RVs in residential zones between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., the restrictions bar vehicles that are being used as dwellings from sitting within a block of any park, school, daycare or preschool at any time.

Violators are fined $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense, and $75 for citations beyond that.

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson represents much of South LA, and he told reporters after the vote that “it is a balancing act.” He described a park in his district where RVs regularly line the perimeter. Without the ordinance, he said, “no one in the neighborhood can use the park.”

But dozens of community activists, nonprofit workers, and LA residents who went to Tuesday’s meeting said that the rules criminalize homelessness and threaten to force people living in vehicles out of their only shelter.

Mel Tillekeratne, says his homelessness nonprofit, The Shower of Hope, recently helped a family with five children living in a pickup truck. “This law is going to directly contribute to these people being on the street,” he said.

“This is a stupid law,” he added.

Shayla Myers, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said the ordinance makes it nearly impossible for people to live in their cars within city limits, because even areas that aren’t technically off-limits often have parking restrictions.

Although nobody spoke in support of the ordinance during Tuesday’s meeting, residents citywide have written to city councilmembers about filth, noise, and other issues at vehicle encampments.

The rules passed on Tuesday were originally adopted a few years ago, after a federal court struck down a prior ordinance that completely banned vehicle dwelling in the city. The restrictions were supposed to be temporary, but they've been extended several times, including this week.

The ordinance will expire again in January.

Meanwhile, city officials say they’re working on opening more “safe parking” sites, which are lots with bathrooms, where people can sleep in vehicles overnight.

Approximately 9,500 people live in about 5,800 vehicles within LA city limits, according to the latest count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

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