People living in their RVs in Fullerton face an uncertain future as City officials and the police have been trying for the past few months to find ways to prevent them from parking on city streets.
City Council passed an ordinance in November of last year that bans all citywide RV parking on public and private streets without a temporary permit. Enforcement of this ordinance was delayed by the “Stay-at-Home” order issued in December, and by legal arguments raised by lawyers with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center (Center) who feel the ordinance was unconstitutional.
Lawyer Brooke Weitzman, who represents some of the people living in RVs, said that the City has agreed to not enforce the ordinance pending discussions about the consitutionality of the ordinance. She asserts that “the ordinance is unconstitutional and targets the most vulnerable residents.”
On March 2, Council will consider adopting a more restrictive parking ordinance that specifically targets a stretch of road along Valencia Avenue in an industrial area of the City where many RVs are parked. The ordinance adds “3-Hour Commercial Vehicle Parking Only” and “2-hour parking” in some areas. The City also bans overnight parking on all streets.
Shely Youngbauer, a long time Fullerton resident who used to own Round Table Pizza near CSUF, lives in her RV on Valencia.
“Due to a set of circumstances, I lost the home, I lost the business, and I ended up on the Santa Ana riverbed for a while…And my son helped me, a friend of mine helped me, and when I finally got my social security, I got an RV,” Youngbauer said.
She said that parking tickets, the threat of being towed, and harassment by police make it difficult for her to afford the necessary repairs to her RV so she can drive up to her brother’s place in Oregon, which is her ultimate goal.
When Fullerton offered a safe parking program for those living in their vehicles last year, she did not qualify because she has a conviction on her record from 16 years ago.
Fullerton’s safe parking program, the first of its kind in Orange County, was terminated at the end of 2020 due to a lack of funding. Youngbauer said one reason more people didn’t utilize the safe parking program was the numerous restrictions it imposed.
Youngbauer said she doesn’t want to go into a homeless shelter because she has shelter (her RV), doesn’t want to be exposed to COVID-19, and wants to keep her dog and possessions.
Weitzman says that, instead of ticketing and seizing vehicles in which people live, especially during a pandemic, the City should seek to help them.
“Our community is better off keeping that person ‘sheltered in place’ during the pandemic, providing housing support, and making a plan that does not involve congregate shelter,” Weitzman said. “If we support repairs to the car and help people get into senior housing, it would be a better option than seizing their homes. It would also be more cost effective.”
The Fullerton Navigation Center (homeless shelter), which opened last year, was recently converted into a COVID-only site following COVID-19 outbreaks in various County shelters.
“These are high-risk individuals who cannot move into the congregate shelter,” Weitzman said. “Based on the numbers released, it seems like nearly one in four shelter residents get COVID-19 in Orange County.”
Most of the people living in their vehicles, like Youngbauer, have stable disability or social security incomes; they are from Orange County, but they simply cannot afford housing. Many are in vehicles that are not accepted by paid RV lots because of their size or age.
City Manager Ken Domer said he believes the RV ban ordinance is constitutional, and that the RV parking along Valencia negatively impacts surrounding businesses.
“We need to enforce due to health and safety concerns as well as other vehicle safety issues,” Domer said. “Many of the RV occupants, not all, dump trash and sewage on our streets and sidewalks.”
Folks living in RVs do not have access to regular waste disposal services, so trash can be an issue.
Youngbauer said the City initially brought dumpsters out to Valencia for people to dispose of their trash, but those were soon removed.
Dirk Wilson lives in his RV across the street from Youngbauer. He owns a few vehicles, some of which have been impounded and are currently sitting in a tow yard because he cannot afford the fees to get them out. He is working on getting one of his RVs smog-ready so he can get it registered.
“I want to get out of here. I want to get a job and be a real person again,” Wilson said.
He has been living in his RV in Fullerton for about a year. Before that, he would occasionally park in Costa Mesa or Santa Ana.
When asked about the large amount of stuff on the road between his RVs, Wilson said most of it belongs to another man who got kicked out of a repair shop he was renting nearby.
One of the functions of a home is that it is a place to put your stuff.
Both Wilson and Youngbauer expressed a common fear among those living in RVs—the potential to have their homes seized by the police for things like expired registration or unpaid parking tickets.
“Police seem to have a vendetta out here against us,” Youngbauer said. “For the most part, those of us who are out here, we keep to ourselves. We watch out for each other.”
Youngbauer said she doesn’t know what she would do if the City starts enforcing its RV ban ordinance.
She said the City should designate an area, as it did with the safe parking program, for folks to be able to park and live in their vehicles temporarily, with access to basic services—like waste disposal and Internet—so they can get back on their feet without living in constant fear of losing their vehicles, which are their homes.
Categories: Local News