THE VENICE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL has supported City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s concept to designate areas where people living in vehicles would be allowed to park overnight and have access to services. (Argonaut file photo by Vince Echavaria)

Nearly a year after Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl first proposed to amend a city ordinance that prohibits sleeping in vehicles overnight, the Venice Neighborhood Council has supported his call to create designated areas where people staying in vehicles can lawfully park overnight.

Rosendahl, who has said the ordinance essentially “criminalizes” sleeping one’s vehicle, has sought an amendment creating a provision for City Council members to designate “discrete and distinct areas of their council district” where people would be allowed to park and sleep over- night. The program would require a permit and provide access to case management services.

The proposal is part of the ongoing effort to seek solutions to the RVs and other vehicles that have been lining Venice streets for extended periods of time.

“Criminalizing people who live in their cars and campers is wrong,” said Rosendahl, reemphasizing his opposition to the current law. “What we need to do is to find places where people living in their cars and campers can go to get proper outreach support and wraparound services.”

The establishment of over- night parking districts (OPDs) where parking would be restricted from 2 to 6 a.m. except by permit in five Venice areas was pushed as a another potential solution to the issue, but it was thwarted by the California Coastal Commission. The commission voted in June to deny issuing coastal development permits for the parking districts after members believed they were being asked to resolve a social issue rather than a coastal access issue.

Following the commission’s decision, Rosendahl and Venice council members returned to searching for other ways to effectively handle the contentious issue.

One of the recommendations that was supported by the neighborhood council was a pilot vehicle-to-housing transition program, which would be operated by a nonprofit social service agency and provide overnight sites to assist vehicle dwellers in finding affordable housing. The program is modeled after successful initiatives in Eugene, Oregon and Santa Barbara.

In another move, the neighborhood council voted October 20th to send a letter to the City Council, Transportation Committee and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, supporting Rosendahl’s proposed provision to create lots where people in cars can legally park overnight. The neighborhood council’s motion was introduced by the Neighborhood Committee, said committee and council member Linda Lucks, who added that the city needs to find proper places for vehicle dwellers to stay and have access to services.

“It’s time to establish safe parking and have a citywide ordinance. The time is long overdue to help these people,” Lucks said.

The council is supporting Rosendahl’s concept to create such designated areas, said Lucks, who believes the plan is one of the ways to deal with the challenging issue.

“It’s a partial solution to an obviously contentious problem,” she said.

Neighborhood Council President Mike Newhouse said that his council’s motion reiterates the work that Rosendahl is trying to do on behalf of the community. While many community members may believe that the streets aren’t for living, the council wants to ensure that the needs of those forced to live in vehicles are adequately addressed.

“We want to try to provide an organized, humane way to facilitate the transition into housing and get them services,” said Newhouse, adding that the effort needs to be focused regionally.

Rosendahl said he was encouraged by the council’s support of the overnight parking areas and he hopes to work together to identify locations and help take the pressure off the streets.

As part of the neighborhood council’s motion October 20th, the council sent a letter to Rosendahl indicating its intent to help him draft the proposal and additionally asked that he consider an amendment to a separate proposed ordinance regarding oversize vehicle parking. The current ordinance would aim to restrict parking between 2 and 6 a.m. for vehicles over 22 feet long and seven feet tall, but the letter suggests replacing “and” with “or” between the dimensions.

Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, called the council’s motion “a step in the right direction” but he opposes the exemption of vehicles with handicap placards, citing the potential use of fraudulent placards. The stakeholders association opposed Rosendahl’s amendment to the sleeping in vehicles ordinance early this year and Ryavec says he still has concerns with the plan, which would do away with the current law.

“It’s completely wide open and it guts the ban against living in vehicles,” he said. “There’s no protection for the neighborhood.”

Rosendahl said the plan will consider the concerns of all parties, including property owners, but the city first needs to legalize sleeping in cars before making any specific recommendations.

“If we know that we have the opportunity to decriminalize it that has to happen first,” the councilman said.

Following the Coastal Commission’s denial of overnight parking permits, the stakeholders association filed a lawsuit against the commission and city, claiming that the commission does not have jurisdiction over the city to issue such permits. In response to the lawsuit, the city was planning to file a cross complaint Wednesday, October 28th, asking the court to decide jurisdiction in the coastal zone, said Valerie Flores of the city attorney’s office.

With the complaint, the city intends to stay “neutral” on the matter but will be able to avoid paying attorney fees if the court were to rule in favor of the stakeholders association, she said. The court is scheduled to hear the stakeholders’ complaint first and the city’s complaint will only be applicable if the stakeholder plaintiff is successful, Flores noted.