A coalition of civil rights groups and individuals who live in their RVs are suing the city of Pacifica over an ordinance that prohibits them from dwelling in their vehicles.
The ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Disability Rights Advocates and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of five Pacifica residents on Monday on the grounds that the ban against “oversized vehicle” parking unduly penalizes them simply for being unable to afford housing in the pricey coastal city.
“We perceive the ordinance as basically being an attempt to push people who live in RVs outside of the city,” said Shira Tevah, a staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates.
Pacifica’s City Council passed the ordinance in late 2019, barring RVs and other large vehicles from parking on many streets, such as those less than 40 feet wide, near an intersection or encroaching on a bike lane.
Lawmakers said at the time of the ordinance’s passage it would improve safety and address health concerns regarding reported trash pile-ups around such vehicles.
“It is focused on safety,” City Manager Kevin Woodhouse said of the ordinance. “The simple truth is that most streets in Pacifica are too narrow to allow parking of oversized vehicles without creating safety hazards for pedestrians and bicycle riders.”
According to the ACLU Northern California press release, nearly one in 10 Pacifica households earn less than $25,000 per year, yet the local median home value has skyrocketed to over $1.1 million while the monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment clocks in at $2,500.
Linda Miles is a third-generation Pacifica resident, but she’s been out of work and receives about $690 monthly in Social Security income every month.
She, along with many other RV dwellers, say they have no other option but to live in these vehicles.
“I am trying to go back to work to save up enough money for a regular housing unit. That’s my goal,” she said. “But that goal is hard to reach when the place I have lived all my life is banning RVs from parking anywhere.”
Financial insecurity coupled with the threat of a citation and related fee or, worst case, the price of a tow can be an insurmountable financial burden.
“The RV ban has prevented me from moving forward in my life. I am afraid to leave my RV and my dog to take a bus to go to the doctor, because I’m afraid of getting towed,” Sean Geary, a 35-year Pacifica resident who currently lives in his vehicle and struggles with bipolar disorder, said in a blog post.
The first violation under the ordinance warrants a $100 fine. Three citations within one year, is punishable by a misdemeanor charge, $1,000 fine and jail time. After five or more unpaid tickets, the vehicle could be towed.
Pacifica isn’t the only Bay Area city to grapple with growing numbers of vehicle dwellers, yet another symptom of income inequality and a housing crisis that existed before the pandemic and has been exacerbated for the most vulnerable during it.
In San Francisco, lawmakers have struggled to make progress as they experimented with approaches ranging from neighborhood overnight parking bans to a safe sleeping site pilot that shut down on March 1.
“I think this isn’t just about Pacifica,” Tevah said. “It’s about not letting any cities in California get away with kicking out their poorer residents.”
The suit was filed in federal court in the Northern District of California, and the plaintiffs intend to ask for an emergency injunction that would halt enforcement while the judge evaluates the merits of the claim.
Woodhouse, Pacifica’s city manager, said the city is aware the lawsuit has been filed, but had yet to be formally served as of Wednesday and would hold off on further comment until it had received the summons and complaint.
“Any lawsuit against the city is a very serious matter and has significant impacts on the city both in terms of staff resources and financial impacts,” he said. “Nonetheless, the city maintains that it is acting within its lawful authority in adopting and enforcing any of its laws and the city will vigorously defend against the allegations contained in the complaint.”