Will a new permit process for oversized vehicles keep drivers from illegally camping out in Manhattan Beach? Or will the process inadvertently stymie law-abiding RV owners?
That's the question that will come back to the Manhattan Beach City Council, as it prepares to consider new RV parking rules. The City Council voted 3-2 last week to direct staff to prepare a draft ordinance creating a permit process for oversized vehicle parking.
The discussion comes in the context of an increase in complaints about lived-in vehicles (cars, vans, and RVs) spotted on the streets of Manhattan Beach. And in fact, as MB News learned, the data appears to bear out those complaints. Between 2022 and 2023, Manhattan Beach went from zero vehicles to 13 vehicles on the streets that appeared to used as residences, according to the annual Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority's point-in-time count. (See citations for this data below under "LAHSA Data Shows Spike in Vehicles Used as Residences.")
An oversized vehicle is defined as one that is more than 22 feet long, seven feet wide, or eight feet high. Currently, the city prohibits oversized vehicle parking in specifically designated areas. The city also prohibits the parking of non-motorized trailers and running electrical cords or other connections from a house to a trailer or vehicle.
(Examples of oversized vehicles and trailers, via the city of Manhattan Beach.)
However, Manhattan Beach is the only city among its surrounding neighbors that does not have a permit process for parking of oversized vehicles.
With last week's vote, City Council directed staff to move forward with drafting regulations that would prohibit parking of oversized vehicles without a permit. Residents could apply for a permit for themselves or for a guest. Remaining up for discussion are such questions as what the fees would be for such a permit and how the program would be staffed and enforced.
"I think on the whole, people would like to see this regulated so that [other] people don’t take advantage of it, so it doesn’t become a nuisance in the neighborhood," said Mayor Joe Franklin. "We have small lots, we have have small streets; they’re very narrow. We’re not built to be an RV community."
The dissenting votes came from Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth and Councilmember David Lesser.
Lesser said that he favored expanding the current policy by working with the police chief and traffic engineer to identify additional areas to prohibit oversized vehicle parking.
Lesser and others noted that there had been no citations issued in the past year for RV parking violations.
"What is the problem we are trying to solve here?" asked Lesser. "I think there's been an absence of fact; there’s been an absence of information about the specific problem we’re going to solve. This is a major undertaking that we’re talking about that will impact law-abiding citizens who own RVs, who own trailers, and will be subject to needing to get permits."
Lesser added that creating a whole new permit process would require staffing and further logistics. "I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expand the existing ordinance to additional areas where we are seeing problems."
A Problem With Homelessness?
One subtext throughout the conversation was the fact that there have been increasing numbers of unhoused individuals living in RVs across Los Angeles County - and needing a place to park. Adding to the issue is the recent clear-out of RVs along Jefferson Blvd. in Playa del Rey.
The question of whether to create a permit process for Manhattan Beach originally came up in City Council due to resident complaints about increased sightings of RVs parking in the city.
The fact that there were no citations in the past year doesn't necessarily mean that there is not a problem, said Councilmember Richard Montgomery at the meeting. "Just because we didn’t have any infractions doesn’t mean it didn’t happen," he said, adding anyone who got a warning would have most likely moved their vehicle before getting cited.
Councilmember Steve Napolitano said he would vote in favor of having staff draft the ordinance, but he was withholding judgment on the issue.
"My theory of what we’re trying to address is people living in cars in Manhattan Beach, and we don’t want that. We want them to take housing, we want them to take services. We have outreach, we have MB SAFE, we have our own efforts, we’ve got a coordinator, we want to help those folks...This is a way to do that by forcing their hand of sorts. At the same time we’re going to be dragging in a whole lot of residents to do that."
Napolitano added that there are other reasons to address oversized vehicle parking, such as alleviating the frustration of neighbors who have to deal with repeated RV parking on the street. Nevertheless, he said, "We haven’t received enough complaints to generate a whole new program so far. I’m willing to look at it, but I'm not sold on it yet."
Official Count Shows Spike in Vehicles Used as Residences
Each year, the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority conducts a point-in-time count of homelessness across all tracts of Los Angeles County, including Manhattan Beach. The survey covers individuals experiencing homelessness, and also tallies the number of makeshift shelters, tents, and vehicles in which a person appears to be living.
MB News dug deeper into the data to find the official count for vehicles during each year's count. Manhattan Beach's 2018 homelessness survey showed 10 cars, 10 vans, and 10 RVs. By 2022, those numbers were all down to zero. However, in 2023, the data from Manhattan Beach had jumped back up to show 4 cars, 8 vans, and 1 camper.
(Important note: In previous years, LAHSA used a formula to convert the number of lived-in vehicles into an estimated number of unhoused people. In 2023, LAHSA began reporting only the number of actual unhoused people identified in the count. That is why the number of homeless individuals reported for Manhattan Beach in 2023 was only 9 - less than the total number of vehicles.)
The 2024 homelessness count took place last week. Results from that count are expected to released in the late spring or early summer.