Trying to determine how an overnight parking program for recreational vehicles might work in Venice, some community leaders are looking to a coastal community less than 100 miles to the north for some answers.

As Venice continues to explore solutions to its ongoing issue of RVs and other vehicles lining the streets for extended periods of time, one proposal has been to locate vacant lots on which the vehicles could park overnight.

With overnight parking districts having been denied by the California Coastal Commission and an ordinance on oversize vehicle parking still being reworked, overnight lots could offer some relief to the problem, some community members believe. But exactly how such a program would fit in with the eclectic community of Venice is yet to be determined.

To help get an idea, two Venice residents, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and some staff members, along with Venice area police officers, paid a visit in late February to Santa Barbara, where an overnight parking initiative has been in use for six years. Under the direction of the social service provider New Beginnings, Santa Barbara has implemented a program that officials say has improved its RV parking problems and accommodated those living in the vehicles.

Gary Linker, New Beginnings director, told the Venice visitors that 21 lots are currently in use with 105 vehicles parking on them between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. In addition to offering a temporary place to park on empty lots of churches, non-profits, businesses and on city property, the program helped 45 people transition into housing and 20 people into jobs last year, he said.

“The program has obviously been very successful and it has expanded over the years,” Linker told The Argonaut. “Our goal is to get people into housing and into jobs.”

Santa Barbara was facing similar issues to Venice with an increased number of campers parking on the streets and the city initially considered banning living in the vehicles but homeless advocates filed suit. The safe parking program was created as a result of a settlement agreement, and Linker said it has been a way to show that homeless in the community are cared for.

The project keeps people off the streets where they may be vulnerable and provides outreach to those participating, directing them to a number of resources such as housing, jobs and medical care, he said.

“This provides a lot of people a very safe and secure place to park every night,” Linker said.

David Ewing and Stewart Oscars, the two Venice residents who took part in the visit with Santa Barbara city officials, gave a presentation outlining the program details at the Venice Neighborhood Council’s meeting last month. They noted in a report that program participants are required to follow 14 rules of good behavior and must obtain a permit with a valid California driver’s license and vehicle registration.

Case managers visit the sites twice a week to check compliance and meet with the clients, but participants are not forced to be involved, the report said.

“We learned that everything is based on relationships and building trust,” Ewing said.

While the effort has not been an outright solution to the RV problem, officials believe it is helpful to clients who are involved, Ewing and Oscars said.

“They consider it a success because it does give help to people who need it,” said Oscars, adding that residents are also given a tool to help protect the streets. “It’s got something for everybody and I’m happy about that.”

The proximity of lots to residential areas has been a concern for some but under the program, lots must be at least 50 feet away from residences.

Referring to concerns of city liability, the report said that New Beginnings covers the total insurance costs of $4,200 per year. Roughly half of the $125,000 annual project costs are funded by the city with the remainder privately funded.

Rosendahl said he was pleased with what he learned during the visit, noting that the safe parking program has been effective for people who choose to take part.

“I was very impressed that they have implemented a program that allows people to be in safe places with their cars and campers with dignity. It gives a carrot to those who want it,” the councilman said.

Those studying the Santa Barbara initiative say that it has similarities to another program in Eugene, Oregon, which has a strong success rate of placing clients into housing and can also be a model for Venice.

“Santa Barbara doesn’t set a limit on how long you can stay on the lot but Eugene does, and they have a much higher placement rate into housing,” said Mark Ryavec, a member of the neighborhood council homelessness and vehicular living committee.

Any overnight parking program considered for Venice would have to go through the same learning curve that Santa Barbara experienced and it would need to distinguish those who are seeking help from those who may be choosing to live in their vehicles, he said. Some Venice community members insist that the effort must not be limited to their community but rather citywide.

“We in Venice have to realize that it has to expand beyond the borders of Venice,” Oscars said.

Rosendahl said he is confident that the program could be effective locally and he has assigned his chief of staff to begin looking into the process, including interviewing stakeholders and locating possible sites. Linker agreed that his organization’s program could succeed in Venice if outreach services are provided to ensure that relationships are formed with the participants.

“I think if the program is properly implemented and case management services are given then absolutely it can be successful,” he said.