NORWALK — For years, recreational vehicle owners in this crowded city have dealt with the problem of storing their RVs by parking them in their yards.
But to some residents, like Patricia Halliwell, an RV visible from the street is "unsightly" and hurts property values.
To RV owners like Councilman Cecil Green, every RV is "a recreational vehicle that somebody dearly loves."
"I don't believe my RV is ugly," Green said of the motor home parked in his backyard.
In a city of mostly tract houses on narrow lots, it is a widespread practice to park RVs in front or side yards, even though it is against city law.
In the past, if a resident complained about an RV parked in a yard on his street, a city official would ask the RV owner to move the vehicle or face a fine of $500 and/or a jail term of six months.
But on Aug. 12, City Council members say they will hold a final public hearing and probably will approve a new ordinance that would allow residents to pave up to 60% of their front yards and 100% of their side and back yards, to allow for RV parking.
Debate over the proposed ordinance has pitted RV owners against neighbors concerned about aesthetics and property values. The last time the council held a public hearing on the topic, at a July 1 special meeting, the two sides argued for four hours.
If the ordinance is passed in Norwalk, residents will have a privilege generally not granted people in neighboring cities. In Santa Fe Springs, South Gate and Downey, residents are not allowed to park RVs in front or side yards, said officials in each city. In those cities, RVs can be parked in driveways, on the street and in rear yards, officials said, adding that residents can apply for permits to widen their driveways.
In Bellflower, a resident may park an RV in a front yard for only 48 hours, officials said. And in Cerritos, residents cannot park motor homes in front or side yards at all, though they may leave camper shells and trailers in front or side yards for up to 72 hours, if screened by a solid fence, officials said.
In Santa Fe Springs, South Gate, Downey, Bellflower and Cerritos, officials said they primarily respond to residents' complaints about RVs, rather than actively inspect for violations.
Norwalk's proposed ordinance would allow residents to store two RVs in their front yards, with RVs defined under the ordinance as motor homes, vans, campers, camp trailers and buses carrying up to 18 passengers.
City officials have been studying the new ordinance since the beginning of the year, when the City Council, acting on complaints from RV owners, decided to suspend enforcement of the ban on RV parking.
The suspension took place after one RV owner, apparently miffed when a complaint was turned in against him, presented the city with complaints about RVs owned by approximately 100 residents, said Donald Rouly, the city's director of planning and development. Rouly declined to name the complaining resident, saying it is against city policy.
The proposed ordinance would require RV owners to apply to the city for permission to pave their yards. Officials also are considering whether neighbors will be afforded an appeal process.
The ordinance requires RV owners to keep their vehicles "neat and clean," and prohibits RVs from hanging over sidewalks and streets.
The issue split the council 4-1 in July, but now all five council members say they are in favor of passing the ordinance with some modifications.
"How can a nice, good-looking motor home make anything look ugly as long as the yard is well-kept?" Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez asked.
To Green, RVs belong in a resident's yard because of the extensive maintenance they require.
For a weekend fishing trip, Green said it takes several days to pack his RV with food and supplies, refill the butane tank and cool the refrigerator.
"An RV is a way of life," Clarence McFarland, a retired city resident, said in an interview. "I wouldn't be able to afford to go a lot of places if I didn't have that RV. You can live as cheaply in a motor home as you can at home."
McFarland said he has a motor home parked in his driveway and a trailer parked on his front lawn. To him, the proposed ordinance is "silly" because in the 16 years he has owned RVs, none of his neighbors has complained. He said he prefers keeping RVs in his yard rather than renting parking space because it is cheaper and safer.
But to Halliwell, a resident who has attended council meetings to complain about the proposed ordinance, "If you have the money to invest in an RV, you should have the money to store it."
The ordinance has drawn other objections from city residents.
Approving the ordinance will permit widespread paving of front yards and would "lower our property values," said Marlo Busk in a letter to the mayor last month. "You will be creating a slum city."
Norwalk "will look like a parking lot," warned Florence Wolf in another letter to the mayor. "We find this in very bad taste."
The ordinance, however, probably will be passed at the council's Aug. 12 meeting with some possible amendments, Mayor Rodriguez said. Among other council members, Green said he favors the proposed ordinance, but said the city should accept a parking surface of rock, wood chips or artificial grass, instead of concrete exclusively.
Council members Peg Nelson and Lou Banas said they also favor the proposed ordinance. Banas added that he would like the amount of front yard space used for RV parking limited to 50%, rather than the current proposal of 60%.
The only council member who has expressed opposition to the proposed ordinance, Bob White, said in an interview Monday that he has modified his position.
White, who earlier said, "We can't tear up the city for a few lousy RVs," said this week that he is now willing to allow RVs in front yards, if parked on widened driveways and not parallel to city streets. "I'm definitely opposed to parking a 30-foot RV in front of your bay window."