A Venice group on Monday sued the California Coastal Commission over the group's request to limit overnight parking in five areas near Venice Beach where residents have complained for years about the growing number of people living in cars and campers.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, raises a fundamental issue: Does the state coastal panel have the legal authority to determine where people can and cannot park in coastal areas?
The agency's staff recommended that the permit parking zones be approved, but commissioners in June rebuffed the idea, contending they were being asked to resolve a social issue rather than a beach access issue.
Mark Ryavec, a leader of the Venice Stakeholders Assn., which filed the lawsuit, said the commission thus ducked its "legal mandate to protect coastal waters."
"Despite hearing of repeated instances of the owners of recreational vehicles leaking and/or dumping their sewage directly into yards, streets and storm drains, which drain directly to the ocean, the commission failed to act to protect the coastal water," he said.
The commission did not return calls seeking comment.
Ryavec, a longtime coastal activist, said people residing in vehicles should park in proper campgrounds with sewer connections, not on residential streets. Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl has sought to identify areas that could accommodate such facilities.
City law prohibits living in vehicles, but related ordinances have been difficult to enforce, partly because of limited police resources and partly because it is hard to establish that people are actually living in their cars or campers.
For several years, the Venice Neighborhood Council and the Venice Stakeholders Assn. worked with the city to establish parking limits in the early morning hours in the most affected parts of Venice. Last August, the Department of Public Works issued local coastal development permits for the five proposed districts. It then sought the commission's approval for two districts next to the ocean.
Opponents of the parking limits appealed to the commission.
But many residents wrote letters pleading for restrictions, saying vehicle-dwellers account for late-night noise, public inebriation, crime, litter and dumping of raw sewage into yards, alleys and storm drains.
Rosendahl said he wasn't surprised that Venice residents were frustrated, but he added that the broader social issue would be difficult to resolve.
"The solution is not posted signs throughout the city but finding places for people to set up their campers and cars," he said.
The lawsuit also names the city of Los Angeles. John A. Henning Jr., an attorney for Venice Stakeholders Assn., said the group wants a declaration from the court that "the city does not have to seek a permit from the commission to institute the restrictions."
Santa Barbara passed ordinances prohibiting overnight habitation in vehicles without seeking the commission's approval, said City Atty. Stephen Wiley.
It "never even occurred to our people" to seek a coastal development permit for restricted parking areas in the coastal zone, Wiley said.