Hoping to accommodate people who may be forced to stay in their vehicles overnight, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has proposed an amendment to a city ordinance that would provide an opportunity for people to sleep in their vehicles in designated areas.

Rosendahl presented a motion to the City Council last month that calls for amending Municipal Code Section 85.02, which he says essentially “criminalizes living in one’s vehicle on a publicly owned street.” The amended ordinance would allow council members to designate certain areas in their respective districts where people would be allowed to park and sleep overnight.

The proposal comes after the city Board of Public Works pushed forward plans last month to establish overnight parking districts in five Venice areas — the Oxford Triangle, Presidents Row, West Venice, East Venice and the Villa Marina area.

If the districts are established, overnight parking would be prohibited in these areas between 2 and 6 a.m. nightly, except for vehicles with permits.

The districts would be created only if they are supported by two-thirds of the residents in the respective neighborhoods and a written request is received from Ro- sendahl’s office.

While Rosendahl has supported allowing residents to implement overnight parking districts, he wants to ensure that people who are forced to stay in their vehicles on city streets will have a place to park overnight.

“As we go forward with the overnight parking signs, I want to have a place where these folks can legally sleep,” Rosendahl said of his proposal.

The councilman said the current city ordinance that prohibits living in vehicles on public streets is “misguided.” As a result of the current economic crisis, many people who have lost their jobs and homes may need to live in their vehicles to avoid sleeping on the streets, and they should not be criminalized, Rosendahl said.

“I’m hitting the issue square on,” the councilman said. “We’re not going to criminalize them. As we go through the process, we will try to create an opportunity for them to find a place to sleep.”

Rosendahl noted that there is a “long way to go” in the effort, but officials are studying similar programs that have been implemented successfully in Santa Barbara and Eugene, Oregon. Such programs allow people in vehicles to park overnight on city-owned and church lots, where there is a minimal impact on residences.

Venice Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse said the councilman’s proposal is similar to solutions that the Neighborhood Council has explored for providing alternatives to people living in vehicles.

“It’s along the lines of some of the options we’ve been looking at with committees of the Neighborhood Council,” Newhouse said.

While Newhouse said he supports implementing overnight parking districts to address vehicles parked on streets for extended periods, the amended ordinance would give people other options similar to the Santa Barbara and Eugene plans.

“We’ve seen it work in Santa Barbara and Eugene and it’s in the spirit of what this ordinance would be looking to do,” Newhouse said. “We need to be able to create transitional opportunities like they’ve done in Santa Barbara and Eugene.”

Newhouse said he also supports implementing the proposed ordinance throughout the city and not just in the Venice community.

Venice resident Mark Ryavec, who chairs the Venice Neighborhood Council ad-hoc committee on homelessness and vehicular living, noted that the committee has actively looked at sites that could potentially be used for overnight parking.

“In theory, I’m supportive of the concept of having some limited exception to people sleeping in vehicles,” Ryavec said.

The amended ordinance should be addressed by the City Council Planning Committee and would need to obtain a conditional use permit, allowing residents to weigh in on the process, Ryavec said. The proposal would also need to consider the economic means of people involved and should be implemented as a pilot program citywide, he added.

“The object is to get people the services and the housing they need,” Ryavec said. “Clearly Santa Barbara and Eugene have shown that you can do it, but we have to create a program that fits with the circumstances of the community.”

In addition to calling for an amendment to the current city ordinance, Rosendahl’s motion called for exploring funding opportunities that would allow the designated areas to have staffing, security and social services similar to the Santa Barbara program.

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