After going through multiple commissions, appeals and changes, the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance (OVO) is set to be enforced winter 2023 on a one-year pilot program. 

The ordinance will prohibit overnight parking of vehicles larger than 20 feet in length and eight feet in height on public lots and streets without a permit

The OVO was proposed by Santa Cruz City Council Members Sonja Brunner, Renée Golder, and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson to mitigate environmental concerns regarding blackwater dumping, trash build-up, and increased criminal activity in areas where oversized vehicles are prevalent.

Critics of enforcement laws such as the OVO maintain that they don’t address systemic issues that cause houselessness such as poverty and mental illness. Rather, they create additional barriers for individuals who are already struggling. 

“Law enforcement should be focused on providing solutions, not handing out citations,” said an unhoused individual living in an oversized vehicle.*  

Permits are available for residents who want to park their oversized vehicles adjacent to their homes, but unhoused people who live in oversized vehicles don’t have that luxury — which is leading some to question whether the OVO will simply make their lives harder.

Santa Cruz Cares, a local community group that advocates for people experiencing houselessness, appealed the OVO to the California Coastal Commision (CCC) in January 2022 on the grounds that it disproportionately affected the houseless community. 

The CCC granted a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to the Santa Cruz City Council on the condition that they modify the standards of the OVO, one change being the implementation of a ‘Safe RV Parking Program’ which expands parking options for people who live in oversized vehicles. 

Santa Cruz County has the largest number of people who are houseless per capita than any other area in California. As of 2023, the county ranks as the most expensive area to rent in the United States. Those who are experiencing poverty often can’t afford registration for permits, ticket costs, and reclamation fees for impounded vehicles.

“People who are working, or those living off of Social Security or disability insurance often struggle to avoid [citations],” said appellant and Santa Cruz Cares representative Reggie Meisler.

Joy Schendledecker, a member of Santa Cruz Cares, believes that despite the changes made to the OVO, the city is failing to provide alternative, stable, and long-term resources for displaced individuals.

As part of the changes agreed upon between the California Coastal Commision (CCC) and Santa Cruz City Council, signage is now required at city entry points and on local street segments that explicitly outline restricted zones.

Additionally, the ‘Safe RV Parking Program’ intends to provide different levels of resources for those displaced as a result of the OVO.

Eventually, if there’s enough demand, the City will begin to sell tier one and tier two permits, both of which allow temporary parking at designated locations. Tier three, however, is fully operational and provides access to long-term parking and additional resources such as restrooms, waste disposal, and charging stations. 

Other supportive services in tier three include personal case managers who specialize in helping participants find housing, health insurance, and mental health services. 

However, the waitlist for this tier is lengthy, with over 50 people registered. And the turnover rate is low, meaning it’s unclear whether those waitlisted will ever receive a permit.

“Once somebody gets a place and they’re stabilized there, they don’t want to go because there’s nowhere else to go,” said City Council Member, Sandy Brown.

City Council is now required to hold meetings throughout the year with a stakeholder group, composed of 50 percent opponents and 50 percent supporters of the OVO. The group will facilitate public comment and address rising concerns during the implementation.

The stakeholder group currently has 10 members who represent different affected and involved communities, including individuals experiencing houselessness. They plan to meet a minimum of four times during the year.

In a letter to the California Coastal Commission, Planning and Community Development Director Lee Butler states that consolidating individuals living in oversized vehicles into one area will allow the city to better connect them to necessary resources.

“We hope we will be in a better situation as a result of the additional services that we are offering in combination with the overnight parking prohibitions,” Butler said.

Sandy Brown says the City should better identify community-based organizations, nonprofit partners, and have conversations around sites for transitional encampments, emergency shelters, and safe parking.

While the OVO will return to the California Coastal Commission in spring of 2024 for a comprehensive update, organizing groups such as Santa Cruz Cares and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are continuing efforts to repeal and combat it along with other laws that they argue criminalize houselessness.

“We want to have policies that recognize [the houseless community] as individuals with rights and needs,” said Joy Schendledecker, Co-Chair of DSA Santa Cruz and member of Santa Cruz Cares, “They are our neighbors and friends.”