Hiccup in Bo vehicle code enforcement

David Briggs
The dirt and gravel roads of the Big Mesa are private, and though sheriff’s deputies have always enforced vehicle code on them, the county recently determined that there was no legislation allowing them to do so. While county staffers draft such an ordinance, Bolinas residents and the town’s public utility district are grappling with the large number of cars either stored or lived in throughout town. A utility district committee recommended stepping up vehicle code enforcement.

For years, sheriff’s deputies have enforced vehicle laws on the crisscrossing, unpaved roads of the Big Mesa in Bolinas. Yet a current effort taken up by the utility district to address the number of people living in and storing their cars in town has inadvertently led the county to discover that it had no authority to enforce the vehicle code there, as it does on the town’s county-maintained roads.

County counsel is now drafting enabling legislation that will allow law officers to enforce state code on the some of the private roads of the mesa. (The county maintains the vast majority of the mesa’s paved roads.)

Under the state vehicle code, a local ordinance or resolution can be drafted that allows the county to apply state regulations to privately owned and maintained roads, according to chief deputy counsel Renee Brewer. Her office has not yet determined whether the new ordinance would apply only to Bolinas or to all the privately owned roads in unincorporated Marin. 

The vehicle code regulates a wide spectrum of laws, including the registration and titling of vehicles, speeding, parking, driver’s license procedures and processes, traffic laws, some towing and loading rules and safety regulations. 

Undersheriff Michael Ridgeway said his office can still enforce a handful of other violations pertaining to the code, such as driving under the influence, which is enforceable on all private roads. 

The newly exposed enforcement issue poses a temporary twist to the Bolinas Community Public Utility District’s recent attempts to tackle issues related to parking and vehicle habitation—both largely regulated by the vehicle code—throughout Bolinas, which were spurred by elevated concern from community members.

Last summer, BCPUD formed a vehicle habitation subcommittee that, in December, released seven preliminary recommendations for public consideration. Among the recommendations were that the utility district urge the county to increase its enforcement of existing parking laws in order to reduce the number of cars parking in “no parking” zones and blocking fire hydrants and driveways.

“Bolinas has a reputation as a community where there is no law enforcement to worry about,” the committee wrote in its recommendations, which can be found on the BCPUD website.

“The lack of deputy sheriffs or [California Highway Patrol] regularly patrolling on weekends reaffirms that reputation.”

The committee also suggested that BCPUD petition the county to immediately remove vehicles that are used as storage containers on downtown streets. At the same time, it proposed a program in which the Bolinas Community Land Trust would issue and register a limited number of permits for extended overnight parking, “with the goal of protecting working members of the Bolinas community who are living on the fringes.”

Other recommendations include working with the county to re-apply for a coastal permit for a traffic and parking plan, amending the state’s 72-hour parking rule to require cars to move at least 1,000 feet and creating “tow away” zones.

Lastly, the committee pitched the idea of a permanent space for homes on wheels—a vehicle park—that the land trust would manage. It acknowledged that the county and the California Coastal Commission would have to revise current zoning and land use laws in order to make this a reality. 

But for the time being, Jennifer Blackman, the general manager of the utility district, said the vehicle code enforcement issue would likely take precedence at the county level. “The feeling is to address this first issue now, so we don’t just transfer a problem from one area in Bolinas to another,” she said, explaining that people living in or storing cars could move up to the Big Mesa were enforcement downtown to increase.  

Ms. Blackman emphasized the district’s support, and even gratitude, to the county for drafting a new ordinance to address the enforcement loophole. 

This week, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni encouraged residents to call law enforcement no matter where they live in Bolinas. “They should call, because in any situation where there are health and safety issues or a dire emergency, the sheriffs will be able to step in. But the new ordinance will help address vehicle issues all the time.”