Faced with the mission of exploring potential alternatives for people living in recreational vehicles (RVs) on the streets, a task force created by a Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) member has devised a preliminary proposal on the issue impacting Venice and other Los Angeles communities.
The Vehicular Living Task Force, formed late last year by Venice Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse, has worked to address the ongoing situation of vehicles, primarily RVs, parking on Venice streets for extended periods. The issue has been a source of frustration for many residents, who claim that the stationary vehicles have turned the community into a campground, creating parking problems in the neighborhoods and leading to unsanitary conditions.
“For a couple of years, tensions have really brewed about the RVs parked on public streets and a lot of people are unhappy,” Newhouse said of the issue.
Venice and other communities in the city have looked into potential solutions to the issue, including creating overnight parking districts, which would restrict parking on streets between 2 and 6 a.m. But Newhouse argued that the overnight districts would only partially solve the problem, so the task force was formed to consider other alternatives.
One possible solution is based on programs used in both Santa Barbara and Eugene, Oregon, in which the RV users could sleep overnight in their vehicles on designated parking lots, such as those of a business or church, as long as the RV users got the property owner’s permission.
The Vehicular Living Task Force has proposed a similar pilot program in which not more than one family could sleep overnight in a vehicle parked in a residential driveway, with the property owner’s approval. A property owner who allowed the RV occupants to stay on the designated lot would need to have the site registered, provide sanitary facilities and could not require payment, according to the proposal.
The owner could revoke that permission at any time and the city could prohibit overnight sleeping if it found that activities were a threat to the public welfare, the proposal states. Newhouse said the program is intended to prevent people from living in their vehicles on the streets, while offering them an alternative.
“The idea of the proposal is to establish a pilot program,” the Neighborhood Council president said.
But many residents are claiming that the proposal is not the way to solve the problem, as it would permit the RVs to stay near residential areas and create a campground atmosphere in the community. A group known as the Venice Stakeholders Association has gathered 200 signatures for a petition opposing the task force plan and submitted it to Newhouse and the offices of Los Angeles Mayor Anto- nio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.
“People don’t want Venice to become a campground,” said Mark Ryavec, a Venice resident who signed the petition. “It’s unacceptable to set up these kinds of encampments in residential areas.”
The pilot program would head Venice on the path to becoming “more of a magnet to the homeless than it already is,” Ryavec said.
Stewart Oscars, Venice Neighborhood Council Overnight Parking District Committee chair, added that Venice has become a place where RV users have chosen to stay on the streets for free.
“People have come into Venice with RVs and decided they can live here free and clear and that’s just not right,” Oscars said. “[The taskforce proposal] would take away the rights of property owners in the surrounding area and bring in people who are not really part of the neighborhood.”
The association’s petition states, “While we are concerned about the increasing incidence of homelessness and current economic conditions that cause some people to opt to use their vehicles as residences, encouraging the practice is self-defeating for these individuals and our communities.”
Vehicular Living Task Force member Dennis Hathaway noted that his group’s proposal is just in the draft stage and has not been vetted by the community or officials.
“It’s disappointing that the [Venice Stakeholders Association] is circulating this petition,” Hathaway said. “They are trying to stop us in our tracks before we’ve done anything.
“No one wants to create a magnet for other vehicles coming into Venice — that’s not the intention.”
Petition signers have also argued that the nine-member task force is not fully representative of the community. Some have questioned the group’s meeting process, claiming that meetings were intentionally not broadcast to community stakeholders.
“It wasn’t drawn from a cross section,” Ryavec said of the task force.
“It wasn’t an open debate or an open meeting process,” Oscars said. “We should be about openness and participation.”
But Hathaway and Newhouse rejected those claims, saying that the task force has included a variety of representatives, including two Neighborhood Council members, homeless advocates, a religious group representative and community members. A representative of Rosendahl’s office has also attended meetings, they said.
“The task force was never closed to anyone,” Newhouse said. “No one was ever told not to come [to meetings].”
In a response to the petition, Newhouse pointed out that the Venice Neighborhood Council has yet to address the preliminary task force plan, but he is pleased to see that community members are so passionate about the issue.
“I very much applaud the folks who are being active and letting the VNC know their position,” the council president said. “I like the fact that they care enough and are involved in their community.”
Petition signers say they would like to see the community and the city address other solutions that would not have such an impact on residences, including using facilities similar to the RV park at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey.
Rosendahl, who has been active in addressing the RV issue in the 11th Council District, noted that the problem does not have an easy solution, but he is encouraged by the community’s willingness to improve the situation.
“I’m open to listening to everyone in the Venice area as to what’s the best way to do it,” Rosendahl said.