Hundreds of people living in RVs parked on the streets of Los Angeles have largely avoided towing thanks to a pandemic-era moratorium on the seizure of oversized vehicles used as homes.
But on Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to lift the moratorium amid growing complaints from residents who say some RV dwellers are dumping human waste on the streets, using drugs and hoarding litter.
City officials say they will begin enforcing the bylaw next month, prioritizing unregistered, unserviceable, or heavily damaged RVs and motorhomes, as well as those that interfere with construction, pose a safety risk by blocking aisles or traffic or have received multiple responses from the Department of Sanitation. Authorities will also resume towing cars that violate posted parking restrictions.
“Neighborhoods have been inundated with RVs, RVs and trucks,” said Councilman Joe Buscaino, who lobbied for enforcement. On Wednesday, he posted images of a motorhome on fire and another surrounded by rubbish.
“Residents from across the city have contacted my office asking for help in addressing nuisance conditions associated with RVs,” he said, “including narcotics sales, fights, loud music , verbal physical threats, intimidation, dumping sewage in the street, blocked sight lines, suspicions sex trafficking, hoarding, hoarding of trash and large furniture.
The proliferation of large campers has mirrored the rise of homelessness in the area and brought the problem to previously less affected neighborhoods. But pulling people out of the encampments has proven difficult, as tensions erupt between homeless communities wanting to stay put and the city trying to cope with often filthy or unsafe conditions.
An overnight parking ban could still be challenged in federal court. Last year, in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group represented by an RV resident in Venice, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter declined to issue a preliminary injunction against the law – as long as the moratorium was in place.
Stephen Yagman, the civil rights attorney who filed the lawsuit, said he “would instantly be back before Judge Carter” and late Wednesday afternoon filed for a temporary restraining order to stop the ‘law application.
For those living on the streets, motorhomes can be a respite with their small bathrooms, kitchenettes, and sitting areas. They are made to be lived in and often less expensive than motels and offer a certain permanence.
In January 2021, Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta J. Reynolds wrote in a memo that the agency “will not impound or tow an occupied vehicle” and that even when an occupant is not present, parking officers must “do an assessment of the unit” to determine if it is being used as a unit.
Under guidelines passed Wednesday, traffic officers will be required to document that no one lives in vehicles that need to be towed. If someone resides in an RV, they will be asked to move or comply with parking restrictions. For those who do not wish, Los Angles parking officers will notify the Unified Homelessness Response Center and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to offer services.
“There will be scenarios in which dangerous vehicles will have to be removed. Period,” said Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who raised the issue with council last year.
A potential complication is the lack of towing services. The Los Angeles Police Department handles towing for the city, and there is only one towing company capable of removing large campers. This company has limited space to store vehicles.
On Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles on Wednesday, four RVs and three unattached trailers were parked alongside a block of small homes.
Teo Mejia was fixing a bicycle tire outside his white motorhome, which was covered with a black tarp. He said he had been living on the streets for six years and city officials came by offering various forms of housing – never to return. The most recent visit was two years ago, he said. So when he learned of the city’s efforts to store RVs like his if they found him housing, he smirked.
“I would take any accommodation,” he said. “But they already promised it and nothing came of it.
“We want actions, not promises.”
Tomas Arroyo, 61, who lives in a tent around the corner, added: “The promise of accommodation is nothing but an illusion for us here.”
The men said they doubted the city could provide long-term housing and believed even temporary housing would be short-lived. Mejia feared ending up on the street, with his motorhome stuck in a pound.
“I’m going to lose my motorhome,” Mejia said. “I can’t have this.”
He said if the city approaches him, he will move rather than take their word on housing.
Gustavo Tabares, 47, a home owner in the area, said he complained to the city about homelessness on the streets. He said he had witnessed drug use and there had been shootings. He pointed to a nearby elementary school across the street.
“There are children around here,” he said.
The camp has also turned into an illegal dumping ground. A boat full of trash sits on a trailer near the motorhomes, and other items have been dumped alongside.
As Tabares spoke, a police car drove past the camp.
“See, they’re not doing anything about it,” Tabares said. “I don’t have a problem with the people themselves. If they need help, ask them for help.
Others praised the council for acknowledging that the RV situation had gotten out of hand.
Along Jefferson Boulevard, people living in about 60 motor homes are contaminating the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, said Lucy Han, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Jungle.
“We are delighted that it has been approved,” she said. “There has been so much degradation in the wetlands that sewage from septic tanks has flowed into the wetlands, where endangered birds, wildlife and plants live. There were needles which made it dangerous. There were shootings where we couldn’t even get out.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nithya Raman was the only dissenting vote. Council members Mike Bonin, Gil Cedillo and John Lee were absent.