The ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Disability Rights Advocates, and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County filed a class action lawsuit against the city to strike down a law that bans RV parking within city limits, on behalf of five Pacifica residents who reside in RVs. Lawsuit Condemns City’s Effort to Banish the Unhoused
The lawsuit argues that the citywide RV parking ban is a blatant attempt by Pacifica to banish those who rely on RVs for housing and mobility, and therefore violates the U.S. Constitution, the California Constitution, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It’s not surprising that as inequality and the housing crisis get worse, people are searching for alternative ways to keep a roof over their head,” said Shirley Gibson, Directing Attorney at Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. “RVs provide shelter and safety for those who could not otherwise afford it. Pacifica’s ban is a cruel, unconstitutional, and discriminatory attempt to shift their housing responsibilities onto other cities.”
All five plaintiffs have deep roots in Pacifica and need to remain in the city for personal or professional reasons. Some are employed within the city, while others have family in the area or depend on access to the city for health care and local services.
The ban was established by a Pacifica ordinance prohibiting “oversized vehicle” parking that was passed in late 2019. Pacifica began aggressively enforcing this ordinance in September 2020 after the city council abandoned efforts to provide any parking areas for RV residents.
The ordinance made it illegal to park an RV at any time in streets throughout the city, including giving the city the discretion to prohibit RV parking based on aesthetics. Although the city claimed there were streets where RV residents could park without getting ticketed, haphazard signage and contradictory information made it impossible for people know where RV parking might be allowed. Instead of providing any clear rule, the city has given out tickets based on housed residents’ complaints, even when an RV is parked on a street that has no other justification for prohibiting RV parking.
Those who violate the ordinance are subject to escalating fines. After the third citation within 12 months, a ticket becomes a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months of imprisonment. If five tickets are left unpaid, the RV can be towed and impounded.
“I have been unable to park my RV in Pacifica without getting ticketed,” said 44-year-old Jared Carr, who has been ticketed at least twenty-seven times under the ordinance. “I currently do not have money for a security deposit for an apartment. If my RV got towed, I would not have the money to pay the tow and storage charges. I would likely be forced into a tent or a sleeping bag on the street.”
The ban’s impact has been particularly severe on people with disabilities, who already disproportionately experience homelessness. The ban has undermined their ability to maintain their health and employment.
“The RV ban has prevented me from moving forward in my life,” said Sean Geary. He grew up in Pacifica and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which he says has been exacerbated by the stress caused by the ban. “I am afraid to leave my RV and my dog to take a bus to go to the doctor because I’m afraid of getting towed. I don’t feel like I can leave my RV for any length of time, and it’s preventing me from getting services I really need.”
“Pacifica’s RV ban targets people with disabilities, who are over-represented in the County’s unhoused community,” said Shira Tevah, staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “The city is failing its ethical and legal obligation to care for and accommodate its residents with disabilities.”
Nearly one in ten Pacifica households earn less than $25,000 per year, while Pacifica’s median home value has risen to over $1.1 million and the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment has soared to over $2,500. Commercial RV Parks are not a viable option. The cost of parking in an RV park is $100 a night, equaling approximately $3,000 per month. According to the most recent data, Pacifica only built three units of affordable housing between 2007 and 2014, even though analysis by the city called for 108 units to be built.
Immediate solutions include allowing RV parking on clearly designated streets that can accommodate their size or creating an alternative “safe parking” program that connects RV residents with services and has proper accommodations for people with disabilities.
“Unfortunately, Pacifica is not the only place that’s decided to criminalize the houseless. Cities across California have decided to banish those with the least amount of power instead of helping them,” said Grayce Zelphin, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “We hope this lawsuit pushes local and state lawmakers to work with RV residents to find safe solutions that respect everyone’s dignity.”
The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
The ACLU of Northern California, founded in 1934, is an affiliate of the national ACLU, which was founded in 1920, to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. We are non?profit and non?partisan.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, housing, and juvenile justice.
The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County is one of California’s most respected public interest law firms, providing civil legal aid since 1959. LASSMC’s mission is for every person to have the basic necessities of life, including safe affordable housing, access to health care, economic security, secure immigration status, an appropriate education, and freedom from violence and abuse.
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