7/14/21 — The Point Arena City Council is looking into the option of providing a safe place to park for people living in cars and RVs, according to a staff report included in the agenda for their regularly scheduled meeting on June 22.
These programs typically allow homeless individuals who are sheltering in vehicles to park in a designated area overnight without risking a citation from law enforcement. Amenities vary, but some safe parking sites also provide drinking water, showers, electricity or WiFi — as well as easy access to a variety of social and emergency services.
“Although safe parking areas seem like a simple solution for people living in their vehicles to safely park overnight, there are several factors to consider,” wrote City Manager Paul Andersen in a staff report to the council.
Civil liability was identified as one of those factors, according to correspondence with the city’s risk manager at the Public Agency Risk Sharing Authority of California (PARSAC) which was quoted in Andersen’s report.
“Should something happen, the city will certainly be brought into a lawsuit as it is a city-sponsored program. If you can get another organization to manage it, and they take on the liability, that would be a favorable solution,” unspecified PARSAC personnel wrote.
In Eugene, for example, the St. Vincent de Paul Society operates the majority of the city’s safe overnight parking facilities, according to a flyer on their Car Camping Program included in the Point Arena City Council’s agenda packet for reference. Involving a large charitable organization like that, or partnering with a larger government agency, would make bigger resources available as well.
“In other jurisdictions, Safe Parking Programs generally require a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance to participate. Most programs also screen out sex offenders and recent violent felons using a background check system,” Andersen wrote.
At a minimum, bathroom facilities would have to be provided, and in most cases someone to monitor the site overnight. Guests are typically permitted to stay for 30 to 90 days if they take advantage of case management services aimed at getting them into housing. All of that would require personnel, which leads to the other major factor Andersen mentions: money.
His staff report includes flyers for The Car Camping Program referenced above in Eugene, Oregon (roughly 168,000 residents) and the CAREavan Safe Overnight Parking program in Union City (roughly 74,000 residents). Closer to home, www.NorCalPublicMedia.com reported in May that the city of Santa Rosa (roughly 179,000 residents) greenlit a safe parking program with an estimated budget of $315,000.
Point Arena, with an estimated population of just 450 residents and projected revenues of just $1,011,474 for this fiscal year, likely does not have the resources to emulate those programs without substantial assistance from the county or state.
The idea started out as something smaller, however. The city council had been working on Ordinance 240, which restricts camping on public property, and Councilman Eric Dahlhoff inquired about designating a specific location next to the sheriff’s substation downtown “where people could simply sleep in their vehicles.”
“But the rest of the council did not think it was a good idea for various reasons,” Dahlhoff wrote in an email June 30.
Things appear to be developing from there.
So far no specific plan has been proposed or considered in any official capacity, and as such there are no estimates yet for what sort of budget such a plan might require. Meanwhile, City Manager Paul Andersen said he’s participating in discussions with a subcommittee from the Mendocino County Continuum of Care regarding related efforts at the county level.
“Safe Parking Programs are a relatively new and somewhat complex program which will require coordination with County and Sheriff to implement,” Andersen writes. “Staff is seeking direction from Council on further research and possible implementation of a Safe Parking Program.”
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Point Arena City Council takes place via teleconference at 6 p.m. on the last Tuesday of this month, July 27. The agenda for that meeting will be posted at least 72 hours in advance on the city’s website at pointarena.ca.gov.