Pacifica’s ordinance that bans parking oversized vehicles on some city streets is either an attempt to maintain safe roads and the quality of life for all or a heartless attempt to make those who can’t afford more traditional housing move along. Or maybe it doesn’t matter which. Either way, the ongoing litigation casts a shadow on a city that doesn’t need one.
The generalities of the issue are well known. There are many reading these words who find it worrisome that people live in their vehicles, and there is reason for concern. Without proper facilities, some RV dwellers might not make environmental protection their priority. There are questions about how to equitably pay for services when some recipients are effectively off the property grid. There are also those who just don’t like to look at sometimes ugly, old RVs and who find the people inside them offensive. The city acted, presumably in good faith, to address legitimate concerns and focused on parking as a means to keep oversized vehicles out of parts of the city.
A lawsuit followed, joined by the ACLU and a disability rights group. They allege the city is more concerned with property rights than human rights. Last week, they scored a victory by winning a stipulation that the city would specifically list where in Pacifica one might park a large vehicle. In theory, this would make it easier to find a suitable place that is allowable by law. In reality, it makes it that much tougher to run the homeless out of town as well.
City taxpayers can take some comfort in knowing they are not alone in court. Last week, a similar coalition of legal rights advocates sued the Peninsula city of Mountain View for its remarkably similar parking ordinance that bans RV parking on streets narrower than 40 feet. That effectively made 83 percent of that city’s streets off-limits for those who live in their oversized vehicles.
“The city of Mountain View’s attempt to banish RV residents is both unconstitutional and morally wrong,” said Sam Diamant, an attorney for King and Spalding who is among the plaintiffs’ attorneys there.
For the record, Pacifica city officials are adamant that that isn’t what they are doing. They know it’s unconstitutional to drive the homeless out of town.
However this plays out in area courts, this passion play with a parking motif skirts the real societal issue at hand. Last week, news reports revealed what the poor already know: There is nowhere in the country where a single, full-time minimum-wage employee can afford housing. That is most obvious and acute in the Bay Area of California. We hail our grocery store clerks and delivery people as “essential workers” yet make so little effort to find them a decent place to live. They are good enough to sell us hamburgers, but we don’t want to see them struggle on our streets.
This isn’t a particularly Pacifica problem, and the people in our municipal governments aren’t heartless. We just wish that, rather than measuring street widths and citing people living in their vehicles, they would put that energy toward regional solutions to our affordability crisis.
— Clay Lambert