The Los Angeles City Council let a law that prohibited living in a vehicle in residential areas and near schools and parks expire earlier this month.
The city council passed a law in November 2016 that allows overnight vehicle dwelling only in non-residential areas and at least one block away from schools and parks. The ordinance, Los Angeles Municipal Code 85.02 (LAMC 85.02), was released with maps of Los Angeles County that delineate the “green streets” where overnight parking is permitted.
The ordinance launched with a fine schedule of $25 for a first violation, $50 for a second and $75 for all subsequent violations. It was originally in effect between January 2017 and July 2018 and the council has extended it twice since then.
But as of July 1, it is now legal to live in a vehicle overnight anywhere in Los Angeles because the council did not vote to extend the ordinance before it expired. In Venice, where about 450 people live in their cars, vans or RVs, according to the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, police are urging the council to extend the law.
Capt. James Setzer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division said the city attorney’s office and Venice’s neighborhood prosecutor are working to make sure the council votes on the law.
Setzer said he wants the council to extend the law even though it has been difficult for police to enforce because they must see evidence that someone is sleeping or living in the vehicle. Since it expired, he said, officers can only cite someone for violating the state law against parking more than 72 hours in one place or for violating other posted parking requirements.
“I hope they pass (LAMC 85.02) and get it reinstated,” Setzer said. “The community is very much concerned about people living in vans and RVs in their neighborhoods and certainly near schools.”
Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, said the law expiring means the police can no longer stop Venice’s “vanlord” from renting out about 14 vans as housing. Gary Gallerie, who lives in a van himself, typically parks his vehicles in residential areas for weeks at a time while tenants live in them.
Ryavec said if LAMC 85.02 is reinstated, he wants to see Gallerie’s vans and other vehicles parked in non-residential areas and away from schools.
“There are green streets where they could camp overnight legally, and you have to ask yourself if he doesn’t want to get prosecuted and his tenants to get cited, then why doesn’t he just move them to one of those streets?” Ryavec said.
Emily Uyeda Kantrim, director of Safe Parking LA, a nonprofit that turns parking lots into overnight parking for people living in their vehicles, said the organization supports reinstating the law as long as the city updates the green streets maps.
The maps have never been accurate, she said. They identify many streets where parking is prohibited as legal for vehicle dwelling, and local officials have individually banned vehicles from parking overnight on hundreds of streets in Los Angeles County since the maps were created.
“Every officer giving citations should instead be able to point someone to a green street nearby or a safe parking program,” Uyeda Kantrim said. “But those maps are less accurate than they’ve ever been and there’s almost no interest in redoing them.”
While the law was intended to facilitate the expansion of safe parking programs, she said, there are only 10 safe parking lots in the county with a combined capacity of 125 vehicles. Until there are more safe parking lots and accurate green streets maps available, the law effectively punishes people experiencing homelessness for seeking safety in their vehicles, Uyeda Kantrim said.
“It’s legal to park your vehicle overnight and it’s legal for you to sleep on the sidewalk, but it’s illegal to live in your vehicle, which is safer than the sidewalk,” she said. “Until we have 300 safe parking sites in the county, we need streets where people can live in their vehicles.”
The Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on the law in the coming weeks, with a proposed extension to January 2020.