Brooke Weitzman, directing attorney with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, sent a letter to Fullerton City officials on December 15, urging a delay of enforcement of a newly-passed ordinance that bans RV parking from City streets without a permit. The letter also calls the ordinance, which City Council passed unanimously in November, unconstitutional.
“We represent many individuals who live in Recreational Vehicles in the city of Fullerton. Some of these individuals have disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act and others are seniors. All have, at times, parked within the City or at the Safe Parking locations. The ordinance is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced,” Weitzman’s letter begins.
Weitzman is the lead lawyer representing plaintiffs in the Orange County Catholic Worker v. County of Orange, et al–the settlement agreement of which has been driving recent efforts of cities, including Fullerton, to build homeless shelters and housing.
Other Cities’ Attempts to Criminalize Living in Vehicles Have Been Found Unconstitutional
The letter cites other court cases in which different cities’ attempts to criminalize RV parking have been found unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court determined in Desertrain v. City of Los Angeles (2014), that a law that prohibited the parking of a vehicle as living quarters was unconstitutional.
“The language of the Fullerton law is similarly unconstitutional,” the letter states. “Fullerton seeks to criminalize merely parking or stopping on public or private property any vehicle capable of human habitation. This is no different in impact than the law struck down in Los Angeles.”
“Several recent Ninth Circuit Court decisions, as well as State law, prohibit the towing of a vehicle without proper notice and a per-removal hearing, whether the vehicle is on private or public property,” the letter states.
Court cases and laws have found that such policies violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Smith v. Reiskin (2018) “held that no Fourth Amendment exception justified unlawful seizure of a homeless man’s vehicle when it was not parked in a manner that would jeopardize public safety or the efficient movement of vehicular traffic,” the letter states.
Criminalizing Homelessness During a Pandemic
The letter further states that the ordinance should not be enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic for public health reasons.
“Orange County is currently in the height of the pandemic, reaching new records of illness every day and all hospitals in the region are exceeding capacity. As we open overflow outdoor emergency rooms, it is a particularly dangerous time for the City to force senior and medically vulnerable individuals out of the vehicles where they can shelter in place and on the streets,” the letter states. “This will only exacerbate the public health crisis.”
The City Manager Responds
At the December 15 Fullerton City Council meeting, two residents currently living in their RVs in Fullerton questioned the City’s new ordinance.
“Where are the public signs posted anywhere?” asked Joseph Palmer, who currently lives in his RV in Fullerton. “It should be posted on the entryway of every main thoroughfare. I’ve been on almost all thoroughfares and I cannot find a sign.”
Palmer says that the industrial businesses around where he parks allow him to park there because he actively helps deter crime and drug use.
“I’m kinda like their security guard,” Palmer said.
City Manager Ken Domer said that the City is still in the process of putting up appropriate signage.
Domer told the Observer via e-mail that the City will not enforce the new RV ordinance during the current Stay-at-Home order, which is set to last about three weeks, but could be extended.
Safe Parking Program to End December 31
When City Council passed the RV ban in November, one justification was that the City has a Safe Parking program that allows a limited number of people living in their vehicles to park overnight on a City lot near Union Pacific Park.
This program is currently set to expire December 31, leaving uncertainty for those living in RVs and other vehicles who use that program.
At the December 15 Council meeting, a man named Walter who lives in his RV and uses the Safe Parking program, expressed uncertainty about what he will do when the program ends.
“I was wondering why on December 31 the program ends. They want to start giving us tickets and there’s nowhere for us to park in the daytime. Why can’t this program keep on going?” Walter said.
Walter lives in the RV with his girlfriend, and both of them have disabilities.
When asked via email whether the City plans to extend the Safe Parking program, Domer said, “We would like to see the program continued but it is a matter of funding. We are exploring CARES Act funding as well as CDBG opportunities.” CDBG stands for Community Development Block Grant, a federal grant program for housing services.
In her letter, Weitzman states, “We applaud the hard work Fullerton has done to start addressing the housing crisis in the City. The shelter and steps toward affordable housing are critical pieces of the solutions. However, they do not justify the unconstitutional criminalization of other people experiencing poverty within the City.”
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