Morris Street in Sebastopol may be clear of RV’s, but the reverberations from the city’s effort to relocate RV dwellers and clean up the once sprawling encampment continue.
Lawyers from the ACLU of Northern California and Sonoma County Legal Aid, among others, filed suit in federal court last week against Sebastopol on behalf of a number of individuals who say they have had their constitutional rights violated by the city’s RV parking ordinance.
ACLU chief counsel on the case, Bill Freeman, explained.
"Several people who are housed in their RVs would like to be able to live in Sebastopol, but have been prevented from doing that, at least on the street," Freeman said. "The ordinance makes it unlawful to park anywhere in the city between the hours of 7:30 AM and 10:00 PM if you have a vehicle that is either designed for or altered for human habitation."
He said Sebastopol’s ordinance has distinct differences from similar bans in the region.
"In most other towns, the city council at least puts up a pretense that the ordinance that they're passing is a traffic safety ordinance," Freeman said. "We've always thought that that was a pretense for expelling homeless folks. Sebastopol didn't even raise the pretense."
Sebastopol’s city manager, Larry McLaughlin, said the RV parking ordinance is part of a broader effort to address homelessness within the city.
"Two years of no parking ordinance, dealing with a situation, dealing with it one on one, using an outreach person to contact the residents individually," McLaughlin said. "All that took a long period of time, and basically, as a last resort, we passed a parking ordinance."
That broader effort to balance care for the unhoused community with the concerns of businesses and other city residents includes, as McLaughlin noted, extensive outreach by a dedicated social worker, assistance with vehicle repairs and restoration, and the creation of Horizon Shine, the safe parking village where many from the former Morris Street encampment now reside.
McLaughlin said Horizon Shine has further complicated the situation within the city.
"A number of RV owners appeared on the scene on Morris Street, who had not been there before," McLaughlin said. "For the express purpose of kind of joining in to be considered for the RV Village. The RV village was already full."
The ACLU and plaintiffs hope first to secure an injunction against the city ordinance, which they feel unfairly targets homeless individuals who reside in their vehicles, through a complaint based enforcement system.
The city said it's hoping to balance homeless services and residential concerns, and plans to fight both the ACLU suit, as well as an appeal against the Horizon Shine Village by a group of disgruntled neighbors.