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New LA city rules limit where homeless in cars can park

Kevin McManus lives in his RV and has to change locations to avoid getting hassled, on Monday June 8, 2015 in San Pedro. RV parks are not an option for him, he said because they generally only welcome newer vehicles.
Susanica Tam/For KPCC
Kevin McManus lives in his RV in San Pedro.

New restrictions on when and where homeless people who live in their vehicles can park take effect today in the city of Los Angeles.

People who use their RVs and cars as homes will no longer be able to park within 500 yards of schools, day care centers and parks. The restrictions also prohibit parking on any residential street between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

City officials said the move is less about increasing restrictions than it is about providing guidance on appropriate places to park. Homeless advocates, however, say the scarcity of approved parking spaces makes it nearly impossible for homeless to use vehicles for shelter.

"It's a ban," said Carol Sobel, an L.A.-based civil rights attorney who frequently advocates for and represents homeless individuals. Furthermore, she said, the rules don't do anything to address Angelenos' real concerns with homeless encampments.

"I understand people don't want people living on the street in front of them, but here's the thing," Sobel said. "They could actually get out of their vehicles, and (legally) sleep on those sidewalks in their tents. Which would you rather have?"

As of the last tally, conducted in January 2016, about 7,100 people lived in cars in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Alisa Orduna, L.A. Mayor Eric Garretti's homelessness policy director, said the city is in a tough spot—responding to resident complaints about homeless in their neighborhoods, while figuring out how to mitigate the growing humanitarian crisis on L.A.'s streets.

"We are balancing the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness out in the streets, in their cars, in their RVs, along with those that are housed and the business community as well," Orduna said.

The parking restrictions, she said, provide the city an opportunity to do outreach to those living in their cars and offer them available services. The city's plan to build 10,000 units for homeless, funded by a $1.2 billion bond approved by voters in November, will take years to come to fruition, but the city does have some resources, she said.

"We have some housing vouchers, we have motel vouchers," she said. "It's, how do we get the word out?"

Shelter space, especially for families, continues to be an issue.

The rules expire in mid 2018, at which point the city will evaluate how they worked out. A lot of that may depend on enforcement, which has fallen to the Los Angeles Police Department.

LAPD officers will determine whether to issue a fine to those in violation of the ordinance: $25 for a first-time offense, $50 for a second violation and $75 after that. For the moment, however, the city has focused on education rather than fine,  and officers have been doing initial outreach on the new rules.

"This is going to be responding to community members concerns," said LAPD First Assistant Chief Michel Moore, who hopes citations will be unnecessary.

On a recent Wednesday, Senior Lead Officer Eddie Guerra, who works in the southern area of Hollywood Division, went out knocking on RV doors and windows to spread the word.

"My primary focus right now is by the schools and the parks," Guerra said."As an officer, I'm not fixing the problem, all I'm really doing is moving it from one corner to the other until we actually have a real solution for the homeless problems we're having right now."

Pulling up outside a charter school surrounded by an ivy-covered wall, Guerra found John Watkins, 69, who lives out of one RV parked in Hollywood, and sells clothing out of another. Guerra told Watkins that his spot, right next to a school, is now a place where he cannot park at any time.

"I'm pretty sure I have a spot I can use," Watkins told Guerra.

Another RV-dweller, Alexis Kerouac, seemed more concerned.

"I need to know right away where one spot in Hollywood is," she said. Guerra told her he'd sent her the city's approved map via email when he returned to the station.

Most of the legal parking spots in Hollywood, according to city maps, are along Sunset Blvd. and Vine St. Both are highly congested streets with lots of metered spots and time-limited parking.

The heavily-restricted overnight parking has bee a source of complaints, particularly in West Side neighborhoods like Venice Beach.

"I'm not leaving Hollywood," she said. "If I lose my RV, I lose my RV. But this is the only place in my life where I've gotten along with the police."

Orduna, of the mayor's office, said the maps are not set in stone and can be changed if they turn out to be unrealistic.

"This is an interim measure," she said. "We want to learn what their needs are, so as we move forward with this homeless strategy, we're designing best practices to meet them."