RV: Several vehicles are parked on Santa Monica’s border with Venice. Holden Gering

Supervisor Holly Mitchell said rising crime around growing RV encampments presented “an entirely new crisis that we need to address with absolute urgency for the health and safety of all of our residents.”

Anyone who’s driven up PCH to Zuma or down PCH to Dockweiler has probably seen an RV encampment on county land, or noticed a mobile home parked in the same spot for weeks or even months on end.

The issue is not confined to coastal areas — RVs can be found parked along rural highways outside Palmdale and on the urban streets of East LA.

According to LA County Supervisors, “Since 2018, and especially during the last 24 months … we have seen an extraordinary growth of RV encampments. This growth has caused a major detrimental impact on the quality of life for both the unhoused population residing in the RVs and the residents and businesses around the RV encampments.”

Supervisors have pointed to sewage and waste issues and rising crime rates around RV encampments, but a new action taken by supervisors during the Tuesday, Jan. 11, meeting seeks to find a remedy for the growing issue.

Back in January 2018, supervisors requested county staff assess and analyze the growing issue of unhoused people living in RVs parked on public roads. By June of that year, the departments of Public Works, Public Health, Regional Planning, and the Chief Executive Office’s Homeless Initiative, in coordination with the Sheriff’s Department and County Counsel, had prepared a report that included recommendations for cleanup as well as implementing safe parking areas.

But the situation has changed in the years since that first report was released, and all five county supervisors recently issued a request for a new report with recommendations focused on new areas of concern, including a steadily increasing crime rate around RV encampments.

“In 2018, this board received a report on RV encampments and recommendations for addressing them,” Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who introduced the motion, said during the Jan. 11 meeting. “We are all painfully aware that the world around us has changed tremendously since then, with COVID-19 and the rate at which Angelenos are finding themselves unhoused and the public call to address it. With absolute urgency, the Board of Supervisors, I believe, must receive an updated report to better understand the problem we’re facing, its scope and magnitude.”

According to Mitchell, a new “underground economy” has sprung up around the encampments, preying on their most vulnerable residents — those who are disabled, mentally unwell or lacking legal immigration status.

“People are illegally obtaining RVs from tow yards or neighboring states and rent[ing] them out to our unhoused residents, many of whom either suffer from mental health issues or disabilities or fear around accepting housing services that might complicate or call into question their documentation status,” Mitchell said. “So, many of these groups of people fall victim to these unscrupulous, if you will, ‘RV landlords,’ to use that term loosely.

“We continue to see RVs being set on fire when people living in them are unable to pay their rent to the RV owners,” Mitchell continued. “The amount of crime that has increased around RV encampments is unprecedented. The Sheriff’s Department reported a 68 percent increase in calls to their stations regarding crime within and around RV encampments. This is really an entirely new crisis that we need to address with absolute urgency for the health and safety of all of our residents.”

The motion was multifaceted: Mitchell and the other supervisors requested that county resources gather data, identify funding sources and make plans to support homeless people living in RVs while also removing the dilapidated vehicles from public roads.

“We will not simply tow away and displace encampments or move RVs from one area to the other,” Mitchell said. “We have to solve for the core problem.”

Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was in support of the motion, but was hesitant to spread homeless outreach staff too thin.

“The county and many of the agencies highlighted here are currently experiencing staffing challenges which have been causing delays when addressing homelessness issues that are currently in play. Not to mention, many of our service providers and outreach staff are facing additional bandwidth challenges in the wake of the new COVID surge,” Barger said, later adding, “I am hesitant to commit the county and our already limited resources toward a countywide RV safe parking program without the proper infrastructure and staffing to ensure it is run efficiently, effectively, and, really, with outcomes that are what we want to achieve. Haphazardly run government pilots and programs only fuel the frustration of our constituents and the people-experiencing-homelessness populations.”

Barger suggested more outreach to neighborhood and town councils would help improve the program’s effectiveness.

Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents Santa Monica, Malibu and much of the lower San Fernando Valley, said she had seen firsthand the effectiveness of safe parking programs, which she said provide sanitation, security and services to people who were already camping out in communities where such programs were initiated.

However, Kuehl added, bringing the idea of safe parking areas before neighborhood councils was essentially inviting criticism.

“People are often much more likely to say, ‘No, I don’t want it; don’t do it here.’ We’ve seen it with housing. We’ve seen it with affordable housing. We’ve seen it with, you know, services for homeless people,” Kuehl said. “I don’t say that people are not righteously afraid. But I think that their propensity, often, is to say, ‘Please just don’t do it anywhere near me.’ And that’s the hard part, I think, of public policy, is having to find the solution to keep everyone around people safe, but to help people get services. And I do think that, in many ways, the safe parking approach is a positive one and a win-win.”

The motion requested that within 60 days, various county departments should work together to provide an inventory of illegally-obtained RVs, plus an estimated cost to dismantle and remove them; identify hot spots where RV encampments have increased crime and encampments within 500 feet of schools; assess parking rules and restrictions in the areas where encampments are currently located; and provide an update to the county’s towing vendors “to ensure compliance against the lien sale of hazardous RVs by lienholders for low-value RVs.”

The motion also directed the County’s CEO to collaborate with various County departments to “identify existing and new resources to support a Countywide RV encampment program … prioritizing hot spots, schools, RV removal and dismantling, and piloting Safe RV Parking sites.”

Other requests included a 90-day period for county staff to identify parcels that might be usable for safe parking programs, plan outreach strategies and research sustainable solutions for waste management.

emily@smdp.com