Guest Commentary | OVO: Instead, create ‘best practices’ safe parking in Santa Cruz

By Santa Cruz Sentinel | April 28, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

By Joy Schendledecker

Dear Santa Cruz, we have a new Oversized Vehicle Ordinance (OVO). This ordinance regulates parking for larger vehicles on city streets, whether you’re a resident with a street address, an out-of-town visitor, or an unhoused resident.

Outside of parking permits allowing temporary parking (a few days out of a month) for people with housing or hotels, OVO includes brief language permitting (not requiring) the city to create a limited safe parking program (ultimately about 60 ultra-short and short-term spaces). We have about 300 people living in vehicles in the city including long-time residents, city employees, non-profit workers, public school teachers, CZU fire survivors, school-age children, elders, and more – a true working-class cross-section of our community. For the many who ultimately won’t be in a safe parking program, the eternal question will remain: “Where do we go?”

Don’t be fooled: OVO is not necessary for safe parking to exist, and repealing it will not defer safe parking. To the contrary, OVO grants no new powers to the city to operate or support safe parking.
Fighting OVO and advocating “best practice” safe parking programs is not intended to polarize and divide our community. OVO creates legitimate civil rights issues for those with and without housing. It increases dire human rights violations for those with precarious or no shelter. And, if you take some of the emotion out of the issue, “best practices’’ are apolitical, cost-effective, and sensible. For these reasons, I support continued resistance to the implementation of OVO, and any other ordinance that penalizes surviving without housing. In the case of OVO, the next step will be an appeal to the Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over coastal access and development (including parking regulations) within about .6 miles of the coast in the city of Santa Cruz.

Safe parking programs that work are low- and no-barrier, include wrap-around services, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management; and they are not part of ordinances that fee-and-fine people with regulations above and beyond laws already on the books. Aside from being the thing that “works,” based on a multitude of case studies, these programs are the most cost-effective.

What about people who break the law or who just can’t follow the rules? We have laws and a very well funded police department in place already. I’m not happy with how our police department or our court system is dealing with this issue! A new ordinance that increases their workload isn’t going to magically decrease public nuisances or criminal behavior. We can’t continue to do nothing, we have to do something! We have done something: for 20 years we had a sleeping ban that was incredibly harmful and ineffective. We’ve also been ticketing and towing vehicles from “hot spots” all along, and that hasn’t solved the problem.

We’ve been doing some unsuccessful things for a very long time – and it’s not just here, these things are unsuccessful everywhere.

Now let’s try some things that do work: CAHOOTS/MERTY style alternative emergency/mental health response; Housing First (for real now!); a broad spectrum of low- and no-barrier living options for those awaiting housing; and those safe parking “best practices” listed above. Let’s use documents like the 2020 Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH) report and the Planning Commission’s (removed) additions to OVO to build “best practices” that add substance and actual equity to the city’s aspirations for “Health in All Policies” across every department and program.

And let’s remember that this is an entrenched, systemic failure that is much bigger than us and that will require major shifts at the state and federal levels to remedy. In the meantime, let’s keep our disagreements productive. And let’s keep kindness, justice, and basic human rights at the center of our work with our neighbors who are unhoused or housing insecure, because we all need each other.

Joy Schendledecker is an artist and community organizer living on the Westside.