[CORRECTION: The vote on Tuesday night was only the first reading of the amendment, which means that a second vote is necessary before this becomes law.]
The Goleta City Council on Tuesday night amended the city’s municipal code to allow for a Temporary Overnight Camping Permit for homeless people living in RVs.
Under the new ordinance — backed by New Beginnings Counseling Center, which supported a similar law currently in effect in Santa Barbara — Goleta property owners can allow up to five such vehicles to park on their property between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. In turn, the property owners must provide the temporary campers with on-site bathroom accommodations, must maintain a registry of the vehicles, and must not charge the campers to park. The permit guidelines also state that the people’s vehicles must be licensed. To reduce the risk of any potential complaints, the RVs can’t be closer than 150 feet to residential properties.
Despite any hypothetical fears nearby neighbors may have, Kristine Schwarz, the executive director of New Beginnings, said that people needn’t worry. “I think a lot of times people don’t understand the population,” she said. “These people are so grateful to have a safe place to park. It’s not that kind of situation.”
Nancy Kapp, a New Beginnings caseworker, seconded Schwarz’s call for understanding. “Not every homeless person is a criminal,” she said. “They’re human beings that are having a difficult time.”
Although he seemed to have reservations about government getting involved with the issue — saying “I want this to be as least onerous as possible” — Councilmember Michael Bennett voted in favor of the ordinance. “There’s no question that people are on hard times now more than ever before,” he said. “Working with them is really in our best interest.”
Councilmember Roger Aceves was the lone “no” vote, expressing his concern that the number of applications could surpass a manageable level and worrying that there would be little the council could do at that point. “You could have 100 applications — there’s nothing to preclude that,” he said.
Councilmember Margaret Connell, though, assured the council that if such an issue occurred — which is unlikely, in her opinion — it could be dealt with in the future. “I don’t think we need to raise the specter of something like that until there’s evidence,” she said. “I don’t think you’re going to have a great flood of organizations that are going to want to enter into this. We in Goleta have a responsibility to address this issue in whatever way we can.”