To address the problems in Bolinas brought by people living in vehicles or leaving them on public roads for weeks or months on end, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni has suggested a ban on overnight parking on two downtown streets.
The supervisor unveiled the proposal—which may appear as an advisory measure on the local ballot this fall—at a Bolinas Community Public Utility District meeting last Wednesday, to a mixed reception.
It was the county’s first concrete answer to a list of recommendations submitted in December by the utility district, which has been discussing the problems related to vehicle storage and habitation since the county passed an ordinance last year that allows it to tailor parking restrictions by neighborhood and even street by street.
But in a letter sent to the utility district in May, Supervisor Rodoni outlined why many of the ideas were unfeasible in regard to enforcement, legality and cost effectiveness.
The district board agreed to discuss the new proposal—which details a ban on parking between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on one side of Brighton and Park Avenues, with parking permits issued to residents and business owners for the other side—and text for a ballot measure at a special meeting on June 28.
Yet many residents at last Wednesday’s meeting voiced immediate concern about effects to long-term members of the community who live in their cars on the downtown streets. Others worried the rule would merely push vehicles and homeless people to different parts of town. (Currently, the Sheriff’s Office is unable to enforce vehicle code on much of the Big Mesa.)
“There are people who have been in this community forever—they have a job, they are able to somewhat navigate, they are okay,” Arianne Dar, executive director of the Bolinas Community Land Trust, said. “It’s going to be a lot worse for them if they have to go over the hill, even if they can better access certain services for the homeless.”
Both Ms. Dar and Bolinas resident Ananda Brady, who spent a year living in his car in town and has long advocated for that right, urged the supervisor to reconsider a recommendation by BCPUD to issue long-term overnight parking permits or even designate a permanent vehicle park for a handful of residents in collaboration with the land trust.
Supervisor Rodoni said that models of such programs in other towns, such as one in Sonoma, had failed. There were zoning and permitting constraints, and the visitor-serving mandate of the Coastal Act to consider. If Bolinas wanted to pursue the idea independently of county funding, it might be easier, he said.
In the meantime, there are county homelessness programs, which brought around 40 people off the street this year, Supervisor Rodoni said, and the downtown parking rule could be an interim solution while the town developed other ways to address vehicle habitation and heavy tourist traffic.
For others, Supervisor Rodoni’s proposal was a no-brainer. One man, a Brighton homeowner, said it has been exasperating to watch the number of vehicles, many of them functioning as storage containers, multiply on the street especially in recent years. Another woman said her daughter had been threatened by a sexual predator.
“Our children should not be subjected to people who come to town and who can just hang out,” she said. “I want the encampments to be cleaned up. I think a permit is a perfectly acceptable solution. Think about the children.”
Some of BCPUD’s recommendations have been addressed, Supervisor Rodoni pointed out, such as a commitment by the Sheriff’s Office to devote extra time to parking and traffic enforcement downtown.
He said he submitted a budget request for a new full-time parking officer to serve Bolinas and Stinson Beach. He hopes to have the monies granted in the new fiscal year, beginning in July.
The county is also investigating how often $99 parking tickets, which is the dollar limit for a parking violation in the state, for the same violation can be written. If it’s multiple times per day, for instance, deputies could step up enforcement.
In response to BCPUD’s request that the county immediately remove vehicles used as storage containers parked on downtown streets, Supervisor Rodoni noted some practical difficulties. Larger vehicles like R.V.s necessitate a special towing service capable of removing and disposing of toxic waste, for example. And towed vehicles need to be safely stored until either the owner claims them or a lien sale takes place.
To date, the county has been unable to find a contractor for large vehicle removals for Bolinas, he said.
The utility district also recommended collaborating with the county to implement a downtown parking and traffic plan that was first developed in 2005 but later stalled pending further collaboration with the Coastal Commission.
Yet Supervisor Rodoni said such a plan would require a robust community approval process as well as collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Public Works, county counsel and the Community Development Agency. He estimated the timeframe to accomplish this would be two to four years.
In conjunction with implementing the parking and traffic plan, BCPUD also suggested amending the state vehicle code’s 72-hour parking rule such that cars must move 1,000 feet rather than just 100 feet after 72 hours. But Supervisor Rodoni claimed it would be extremely time-consuming for deputies to enforce, and said his proposal for Brighton and Park would remedy the problem there.
The supervisor also argued that his proposal could address BCPUD’s request that the county add “tow-away” zones in Bolinas, which he said were difficult to enforce.
The BCPUD board had a number of questions about the feasibility of the proposal on Wednesday, but was amenable to it overall. Board members agreed that the subject deserved a vote from residents.
Board member Lyndon Comstock said the crowded scene downtown reminded him of the time he spent living in South Berkeley in early ’70s. He said he and his community there had been “more compassionate” about homelessness and that “word quickly got out” that the homeless were welcome. After building in a free box on his block, he personally tore it down a few years later.
“A certain number of responsible people can handle things until a point—until you get overwhelmed,” Mr. Comstock said. “We like that this is a compassionate place; without that, we lose our soul. But we have to take some steps to try to slow down because it is starting to overwhelm us, and there is no sign it will stop and fix itself.”