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RV Parking Dispute Creates Lots of Anxiety

Santa Barbara's mayor is unhappy that county officials did not consult the city before selecting two downtown sites for recreational vehicles.

October 27, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — Mayor Marty Blum was stunned at first. County leaders who are normally her political allies had pulled a fast one, she thought.

Maybe it might not seem like that big a deal to outsiders. But the County Board of Supervisors had voted to allow 10 recreational vehicles to park in county-owned lots in downtown Santa Barbara.

Right by the County Administration Building was a lot where five RVs could be parked overnight, they decided. And near the courthouse was another lot for jurors that could handle five more RVs.

The vote by the Board of Supervisors was 4 to 0. And two of those votes came from Naomi Schwartz and Susan Rose, usually on the same side of most issues as Blum.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Barbara dispute -- In the Oct. 27 California section, a photo caption that ran with a story about a political dispute between Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and county Supervisors Naomi Schwartz and Susan Rose did not mention when the photograph was taken. It was taken earlier this year before the dispute over RV parking began.

"I knew they had been considering places in the county, but not right in the middle of town," Blum said.

It was a decision that strained the usual camaraderie between city and county elected officials, she said.

"We spent maybe two years looking at the RV issue here, and we came to the conclusion there is just no place for them here," Blum said. "Now the county is letting 10 of them park overnight, and it's going to make for some serious downtown traffic problems during the day."

Advocates for the homeless had been fighting the city for almost two years over the RV issue. The city was receiving complaints from residents that RV owners with no other place to live were hogging the best parking places in the city's beach areas.

The county initially was looking for places outside the city where up to 30 or so RVs could park permanently. The top choices for overnight parking, including a parcel near the Santa Barbara Airport, had been ruled out. So county officials decided to take their own look at downtown Santa Barbara.

"This isn't something I want to die on the sword over," Blum said. "But it does strain relations. Think of it as a little spat in paradise."

Schwartz, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said she was surprised that the city was so surprised by last Tuesday's vote.

"We have been talking about it for some time now," she said.

But there had been at least a partial breakdown in communications, the county conceded. A staff report that usually would have been sent to the city was not delivered.

The controversy started about two years ago.

As the city began considering laws to regulate RVs, homeless activist Peter Marin, head of the Committee for Social Justice, argued that local officials were resorting to class warfare to drive the homeless from town.

The city's solution was a law banning RVs from parking overnight on city streets. Supported by an April court decision, Santa Barbara police began issuing hundreds of tickets and the number of highly visible RVs in the city dropped dramatically.

"At one point, there were only a few RVs in the whole city," Blum said. "But it became a hot issue, and we had RVs coming from all over the country. The problem wasn't just parking. They were driving around all day tying up traffic and jamming the streets."

Since the city's crackdown, five churches and charitable groups have allowed a total of 15 RV owners to park in their parking lots. But no city lots were opened for overnight parking.

The Board of Supervisors still has to vote on adding the 10 new spaces a second time, and Blum said she will have spoken to Schwartz and Rose by then.

"If they go ahead with this, we will certainly be watching closely to see what happens," Blum said. "The problem I see is the RVs leaving the county lots at 7 a.m., grabbing the closest parking spaces around the courthouse, then moving every couple of hours because of the two-hour parking limit in most places.

"This isn't that big of a city, and traffic is already a major problem here," she said. "I'm afraid 10 more RVs will make it even worse."

Schwartz said the county did its best to find larger sites on unincorporated land outside downtown Santa Barbara, and would like to find a larger site. Four potential sites were dropped from consideration because of opposition from neighbors, school officials and the city of Goleta, she said.

"We are all doing our best to try to find places for the homeless," Schwartz said. "It's like no room at the inn. Where can you put them?"

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