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Motorhomes line Third Avenue in Venice on Friday afternoon. Residents of the funky beach community are struggling to find a solution to the influx of people living in their RVs on residential streets. (photo by Brandon Wise)

VENICE — A scraggly man with a missing front tooth and a gruff, gray beard sits in the back of a late 1980s Dodge Ram conversion van parked on Rennie Avenue just south of the Santa Monica border with Venice.

For the time being, the retired, custom motorcycle painter is living in the van as he makes his way from San Diego to San Francisco, stopping at choice coastal towns along the way. He has been in Venice for about a year and said he hasn’t had any trouble with residents or the law for living in and parking his van in Venice.

“As long as you move your vehicle every three days, you’re fine,” said the man who wished to remain anonymous, referring to a current law in Los Angeles that prohibits street parking for more than 72 hours at a time.

But that lax attitude toward parking could change. Some permanent residents are continuing to search for alternative ways to prevent RV dwellers from parking on the street, following a recent decision by the California Coastal Commission to deny a settlement that would have barred RVs from parking on the street overnight.

“I don’t think this issue is going to go away for the folks who live in Venice,” said Richard Bloom, a Santa Monica councilman and a coastal commissioner who supported the settlement. “This is still something that needs to be addressed, and the community is becoming very polarized.”

Venice residents have long complained about those who live in RVs, saying they dump sewage in the streets and create late-night noise. There are approximately 200 to 300 RVs that mainly populate the Rose Avenue corridor and Venice Boulevard, taking parking from residents, said Stuart Oscars, co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Overnight Parking.

One proposed solution was to create overnight parking districts (OPDs), which establish permit-only parking for residents on streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. But the Coastal Commission denied the permit needed to establish the OPDs one year ago.

The Venice Stakeholders Association brought a lawsuit, which the city later joined, against the Coastal Commission after it denied Venice the permits. The suit called for, among other things, taking the power to establish OPDs out of the hands of the Coastal Commission and giving the jurisdiction to the city.

The three parties crafted a settlement that would have required Venice to create over-sized vehicle restrictions for vehicles taller than 7 feet and longer than 22 feet for six months. If that did not solve the RV problem, Venice would have been allowed to create the OPDs.

Despite the Coastal Commission staff recommending the settlement’s approval in a closed session a month ago, commissioners voted 6-3 to deny the settlement at a public hearing June 10.

The Coastal Commission voted against the settlement because it thought creating permit parking would limit public access to the beach, said Sara Wan, a commissioner who was against the settlement. Wan said the other coastal towns the commission has approved OPDs for have shown there is enough parking outside of the permit areas so there is little to no impact on public access to the beach.

Wan also said she believes Venice was using the commission to solve its social problems, which is not the commission’s responsibility. Some Venice residents said they agree.

“Overnight parking districts essentially create gated communities, which is not at all the tone of Venice,” said Karen Wolfe, a member of the Venice Action Alliance, which opposes OPDs. “The real issue people have is visual blight. Existing laws can be enforced to solve these problems such as laws against dumping, laws against noise and laws against public urination.”

But Oscars said the social issue has been forced onto Venice because other coastal towns in California have OPDs.

“The hearing was ridiculous because it made Venice this little island that’s supposed to solve this whole problem by ourselves,” Oscars said. “Why are we not being given our equal rights?”

RV dwellers, some of whom said they feel their needs have largely been ignored, said they are pleased with the commission’s decision.

“There’s a group of people harassing [us] out of a place to sleep,” said an RV dweller who wished only to be identified as X.I. “But Venice is trying to stay free and weird.”

The Venice Stakeholders Association will now continue with its initial lawsuit, members said.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood council and city officials will pursue other options to curb the RV issue. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Venice, is trying to get over-sized parking ordinances passed. He is also looking to create a safe parking program that takes RVs off the street, puts them into parking lots and provides social services to the dwellers with the ultimate goal of getting them into permanent housing.

The program is modeled on one in Santa Barbara and one in Eugene, Ore. The Santa Barbara program uses 21 locations that are either churches, government properties or nonprofits to house 105 campers. The Santa Barbara program has a 20 percent success rate in finding permanent housing for participants, while the Eugene program has a 50 percent success rate, Oscars said.

Rosendahl is searching for organizations interested in participating in the safe parking program. Rosendahl said he hopes to have the program in effect within the next six months. He has set aside $750,000 in city funds over the next three years to help start the program.

The VNC will also continue working toward OPDs, and Oscars said no single idea is taking precedence as they all have the potential to solve the problem.

Whether the city will also continue to work toward OPDs remains to be seen, Rosendahl said. He said he believes the Coastal Commission’s stance on Venice creating OPDs is unfair.

“This isn’t just Venice’s issue,” he said. “This is America’s issue.”

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