MONTEREY PARK — Call it the War of the Winnebagos or, perhaps, the RV Skirmish.
For years, city officials concede, they haven't enforced an ordinance that prohibits all vehicles, including automobiles, motor homes and boats, from being parked in residential driveways. An additional law applies: No vehicle may be parked on the street for longer than 72 hours.
Then came Betty Couch of Crest Vista Drive, a member of the city Parks and Recreation Commission and a candidate for the City Council in April's election.
Eighteen months ago, a code enforcement officer issued a citation for Couch's Pace Arrow motor home. The 28-foot, 9-inch vehicle was illegally parked across the street in her in-laws' driveway. Couch has a small garage and a very short driveway--so short, she said, that "we couldn't put a Honda in (it)."
The citation was only a warning, and the ordinance has not been enforced against her since. Even so, Couch and her mother-in-law persuaded other RV enthusiasts to take their cause to the council. They wanted to legally ensure what they consider worthy of protection under the Bill of Rights: the right to park their RV in the driveway.
Last Monday, the council guaranteed that right, with some restrictions. Before an audience of several dozen RV supporters, the council gave tentative approval to an ordinance that would allow recreational vehicles to be parked in driveways or in side yards on concrete or asphalt pads. The council took four votes but finally, in a 3-2 decision, approved the basic notion of granting RVs their due.
"There's certainly a lot of legitimate emotion that RVs stir up," city planner Margo Wheeler said.
That became clear during the meeting, when speaker after speaker addressed the council. Scores of supporters had already attended a Planning Commission meeting on the subject in January.
The RV owners complained about a provision in the new ordinance that requires all vehicles to be parked at least 10 feet away from the front property line, which normally runs along the sidewalk.
With that approach, the RV owners complained, they need 30- and 40-foot-long driveways to accommodate some of their vehicles. "You'd have to chop the RV by three feet," said Henry Kwok, who parks his 22-foot Itaska Winnebago outside his Los Angeles office in order to avoid violating the law in Monterey Park.
City officials agreed to work on the specifics of the ordinance, saying that perhaps by the Feb. 22 council meeting there will be further amendments to ensure that RVs may be parked in driveways if they don't block the sidewalk.
Not everyone likes the idea of letting motor homes park in driveways. Councilman Barry L. Hatch said: "You're supposedly able to stand at your front door, look to your right, look to your left, and see greenery. It looks bad if you look . . . (and) see a great, big, huge, 10-foot-high box of metal."
At the council meeting, Hatch said he was sympathetic to the motor home owners, but he added that these large vehicles create safety problems, blocking the view on streets and near sidewalks.
Hatch compared an RV to a horse, saying the owner has to find an appropriate stable and bear the extra cost if it won't fit in his garage or back yard. "Now we have a horse of a different color--a large metal one that's going to intrude on other people's rights," he said.
Ralph Canzano sees things differently.
He drove his 1972 Chevrolet pickup truck with attached 8 1/2-foot Pilgrim camper to the council meeting and said: "I thought when you bought a house, a car, a motor home . . . it's yours. They want $60 a month for storage. How can I afford that? When I got all this land in my yard, I can't see paying somebody to store my camper."
When Canzano spoke of days riding with his wife and three daughters, he became emotional to the point of tears. He spoke of wild rabbits, starlit skies above Santa Barbara glimpsed through his camper's skylight, and fresh apples bought from roadside stands next to orchards. The right to experience these moments, he said, was guaranteed partly by his fighting in World War II.
"I'm just an ordinary GI Joe. A camper and a motor home really is a dream home. The camper is my tranquilizer, my safety valve. I can see America through my windshield. It gives a man raising a family an outlet. I don't have to be in Vegas with a whiskey glass to enjoy myself--all I need is to be in my camper with my wife."
Unlike Hatch, Canzano doesn't worry about seeing metal. "I'm more interested in how the grass is cut and whether houses are painted. . . . The starchy people, they should go live in Beverly Hills if they don't like it," he said.
Betty Couch's mother-in-law, Evelyn Diederich, said of those who don't like motor homes on the streets or in driveways: "It's wonderful to have the city beautiful, but sometimes I think you can go too far." Anyway, she says, "nowadays people have nice-looking motor homes--better looking than their cars."