Shan Rose of Sunrise Senior Living was surprised to learn that the van he uses to drive elderly clients to appointments was so long that it violated a city ordinance. (photo by Brandon Wise)

15th STREET — An ordinance meant to keep recreational vehicles off of Santa Monica’s streets at night snared an unlikely victim in recent weeks — a van used by an assisted-living center to transport its elderly charges.

The van, operated by Sunrise Senior Living, has been parking immediately outside of the center on the 1300 block of 15th Street for the last eight years without molestation.

It’s prime parking space made it convenient when a resident needed to go somewhere immediately, and also prevented elderly and disabled from walking several yards out of their way to load the bus.

That changed in late November, when driver Shan Rose discovered the first of what would become eight $64 tickets, which cited the vehicle for being over 20 feet long on the roadway.

The tickets puzzled Josie Cruz Medina, the activities and volunteer coordinator at Sunrise.

The bus in question has “disabled” plates because of its clientele, whose average age is approximately 85 years old. Those plates guarantee parking without time limits in almost any spot in the city, except for street cleaning and areas denoted by “no parking anytime” signs.

That includes the preferential parking district zone across the street from the home, although the van also has a parking placard for that.

That said, neither Medina nor Rose could figure out why parking enforcement had targeted the van.

“We’re not in the wrong, we aren’t violating anything,” Medina said.

But they were.

A long-standing, but until now seldom enforced, rule on Santa Monica’s books declared cars over 5 feet tall, 8 feet wide and 20 feet long were not allowed on public streets between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Even cars with disabled placards aren’t safe under the ordinance.

While the placards protect vehicles of a certain height, the length isn’t mentioned in the California vehicle code, said Santa Monica traffic engineer Sam Morrissey.

“The way I read the vehicle code, it’s silent on length,” Morrissey said. “There’s no way around the length aspect.”

Additionally, some types of vehicles do not get special treatment even with disabled placards, although it was unclear if the Sunrise bus fell into that category.

“This is definitely the first of this situation,” Morrissey said.

The rule has been on the books since the late 1970s or early ‘80s in the form of two separate ordinances that relatively few people knew about, a flaw that was fixed by the City Council in April.

In the same action, council members approved signs to be posted at 50 strategic points on the outskirts of the city to inform people about the restrictions.

When the new, streamlined version of the ordinance came into effect, Morrissey’s office got a number of calls from business owners who had improperly parked their transport vehicles for clarification, and Mar Vista residents complained that the rules were meant to chase large vehicles into their neighborhoods.

The Sunrise crew, however, was unaware of the change until the tickets began arriving. With signs posted only at the entrance of the city, it was easy to remain ignorant.

“Why not here, so we can know about it?” Medina asked.

The growing number of tickets chased the van out of Santa Monica. Instead, it parks four miles away at a Sunrise location in Playa Vista, which is a problem for the business which needs to be able to provide rides to its residents at all times.

“If a resident needs to go somewhere at 7 a.m., we need to have access,” Medina said.

Now that the space in front of Sunrise is constantly taken up by other cars, residents have to walk to the adjacent driveway to load the van, which entails blocking the entrance to a shared underground parking lot.

The bus is too tall to fit in the parking structure.

The situation is unacceptable for a business with clients that spend $6,000 per month base to live there, Medina said.

“They pay a lot of money to have this service provided to them,” she said.

City Hall is looking into options to solve Sunrise’s parking problem and bring the bus back home, including designating the spot in front of Sunrise specifically for the van.

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