Los Angeles City Council votes to extend vehicle dwelling law

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Living in cars, vans and RVs is once again illegal in residential areas of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to reinstate a law that prohibits sleeping overnight in a vehicle in residential areas and near schools and parks. The council decided to extend the law, which expired earlier this month, after hearing testimony from dozens of activists that the law unduly punishes people who have no choice but to live in their vehicles.

“I think we can all agree that being homeless is not a crime,” said Ryan Davis, a formerly homeless veteran. “There has to be some way we can all work together to designate areas for the less fortunate to sleep in their cars while they get back on their feet.”

Dozens of activists temporarily shut down the council meeting after the council voted without discussing the law, chanting “Shame on you!”. Police detained one person and directed others out of the council’s chambers, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

The members of the public who addressed the council said the 200-vehicle capacity of Los Angeles’ safe parking programs is nowhere near enough to serve the almost 10,000 people who live in their vehicles across the city. 

“Few arrangements have been made to create sufficient safe parking locations,” said Jane Demian, a board member of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council. “Rather than penalize these folks, we need to provide safe parking lots throughout the city.”

The council enacted the law, Los Angeles Municipal Code 85.02, after a federal court struck down the city’s ban on living in vehicles and has renewed it several times since then. A judge said the ban criminalized innocent behavior and discriminated against people living in poverty.

When the law went into effect, the city released a “green streets” map that indicates the commercial and industrial areas where people can sleep in their vehicles, but the council has banned overnight vehicle dwelling on many streets since then without updating the maps.

Someone living in their vehicle who parks on a residential street or within 500 feet of a school or park is subject to a $25 fine. That rises to $50 for a second and $75 for all subsequent violations.

Residents of neighborhoods across Los Angeles have said that people living in cars, vans and RVs create noise and trash issues and take up parking spaces for days at a time. In Venice, where 450 people live in their vehicles according to the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, residents have demanded that the city reinstate LAMC 85.02.

“I’ve received quite a few emails from people with indignation, anger and in some cases real fear, particularly about people living in vehicles right next to their kids’ elementary schools,” said Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, which is also suing the city to halt construction on a homeless shelter in Venice.

But activists say that criminalizing living in vehicles will only drive people onto the streets, where more than 1,200 people experiencing homelessness have died since 2017.

“It is embarrassing to be a citizen of a city that is so heartless,” said one member of the public.

Although the council voted to extend the law without discussion, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said the council will evaluate potential changes to the law over the last six months and develop ways to expand safe parking programs.

madeleine@smdp.com