Few issues have the capacity to pit neighbor against neighbor like the parking of motorhomes, trailers and boats in urban areas.
When I moved from a Los Angeles suburb to Washington State six years ago, one of many differences I noticed was the regulation of property use. Where I lived in California, the city took a keen interest in appearances. Code enforcement was so tight that garage sales were limited to two a year and all items had to be kept inside the garage or in your backyard fenced from view. RVs also had to be concealed behind fences or parked off-site in a storage yard except when they were being loaded or unloaded. The city employed code enforcement officers to monitor such things.
In the part of Washington State where I live now, regulation isn’t that tight in the cities and seems to be non-existent in unincorporated county territory. I mean if you can keep a half-dozen junk cars in your front yard, as some people do, I presume that anything goes.
Finding the right balance between preserving the right of people to use their property as they wish, and protecting neighbors from nuisances is a problem that is never quite settled to everyone’s satisfaction.
In Lakewood, California, they have been trying for many years to resolve a dispute between people who want to ban the parking of RVs on residential streets, and RV owners who want the right to park where they see fit.
Donald Waldie, the city’s public information officer, said more and more people in Lakewood are getting RVs and parking them on the street. Lakewood is a city of 84,000 people about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles. It is a blue-collar town that developed rapidly in the 1950s during the post-World War II housing boom. The houses are small (about 1,100 square feet on average), the driveways are short, and the streets are narrow.
Waldie said the lots tend to be small, too, with little room to add onto houses, so instead of enlarging their homes, people are apparently using their money to buy RVs. One man told the Lakewood City Council that he had seven of them.
Finding a place to store an RV in the congested metropolitan Los Angeles area is not easy, and can be expensive. In Torrance, another Los Angeles suburb that has been wrestling with the RV parking issue this year, a city study found that RV storage rates ranged from $100 to $259 a month.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the issue became so contentious in Torrance that City Hall was inundated with letters and e-mails from partisans on both sides. One regulation supporter wrote: “Get those monstrosities off the street.” Expressing the opposite view, an RV owner e-mailed this plea: “Let’s all live and let live.”
The Torrance City Council came up with a system that will limit RV parking on the street starting in July of 2007. RV owners will be able to get up to 96 daily permits a year to park for loading, unloading and maintenance, but will no longer be free to park at will. Out-of-town RVers will be able to park for up to 14 days in front of the house they are visiting.
Torrance and Lakewood are just two of many cities across the country that have been tackling the RV parking issue with varying approaches. In the City of Los Angeles, an ordinance enacted in August gives council members the power to designate streets where RV parking will be restricted to short-term loading and unloading. In the Northern California county of Santa Cruz, county supervisors set up a system that enables residents to decide street-by-street whether they want to ban RV parking. If more than half the residents on a street petition the county and pay $110 for a street sign, they can ban RVs.
The case for restricting RVs may have some justification on streets that are congested and narrow, but the movement has clearly gone too far in some cases. In the village of New Lenox in Illinois, for example, village trustees, according to a story in the Star newspapers, have banned overnight parking in store parking lots in case Wal-Mart builds a proposed a 24-hour store there. Wal-Mart usually allows overnight parking by RVers, but the ordinance says overnight parking “diminishes property values, invites plundering, inflicts a scenic blight, degrades the environment and causes noises, odors and air pollution.” Apparently New Lenox officials expect the Wal-Mart parking lot to be so beautiful that they don’t want anything there at night to disturb the loveliness of it all.
Obviously there are different approaches to this issue. What makes the City of Lakewood unusual is that the City Council has given up trying to resolve the matter on its own and has punted to voters. One measure on the November 7 ballot would prohibit the parking of motorhomes on city streets, and a second measure would prohibit trailers. Both would allow exceptions for loading and unloading, and neither would affect parking in driveways. The Lakewood City Council has already banned RV parking on the street by non-residents, except for short-term visits by family and friends.
Although residents in some cities have raised aesthetic objections, the concern in Lakewood seems to focus mainly on the safety problem created by large vehicles blocking views on narrow streets. The question is whether voters feel that problem is serious enough to warrant forcing RV owners to either find space to keep their RVs on their own property or rent storage space. By the time many of you read this, the election will have been held. If you are curious about the outcome, you can find the result at the Lakewood city Web site at www.lakewoodcity.org.
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