Jim Two Poneys may not move fast, but he sure dodged a bullet. Until late last week, Two Poneys — part Apache, part Welsh — believed that he and the old, lumbering RV he calls home would be effectively run out of Santa Barbara by the city’s new Oversized Vehicle Parking Ordinance that went into effect this Tuesday.
Last October, the council voted unanimously to ban parking oversized vehicles in city limits, thus bringing to a close a convoluted 15-year game of tug-of-war with RV dwellers and their advocates. Two Poneys, a disabled military veteran who’s lived in Santa Barbara five years, has been participating in the city-sanctioned Safe Parking Program — run by New Beginnings Counseling Center — that allows him to park and sleep in his RV in a downtown city lot at night. But with the onset of the new ordinance, Two Poneys and other Safe Parking participants wondered where they could go during daylight hours. Enforcement of the new ordinance was delayed to allow Safe Parking administrators to find daytime spaces. A few months ago, they’d barely secured 10 for nearly 30 RV dwellers. Two weeks ago, Two Poneys was asked if he wanted to participate in a lottery. The odds, he said, made him nervous.
Late last week, Safe Parking administrators announced they’d managed to secure enough spaces for everyone in their program. But even with a laminated yellow parking permit on his dashboard, Two Poneys was edgy about his status early Tuesday morning. “I feel like I’m on guard here,” he said as a city parking enforcement officer approached in her scooter. She hadn’t been notified the lot had been opened up for day use, she explained, scanning his permit to make sure it was valid. She drove off with a “Bye, darling” and a friendly wave.
Two Poneys has had his fair share of trouble. At one point, he was making $1,000 a week, but now he relies on disability payments. He just escaped a brush with thyroid cancer. Two Poneys drives the sort of RV that makes residents edgy when it stops in front of their homes. He knows it. He sees the stares and glares. At one time, he had accumulated up to 50 tickets, but he didn’t have the money to pay them off. With help from longtime homeless rights advocate Peter Marin and a willingness to haggle by Police Chief Lori Luhnow, Two Poneys said he and City Hall negotiated a 13-year plan to pay off those tickets.
The number-one neighborhood concern Santa Barbara cops have consistently heard is the sight of old, weather-beaten RVs parked in city neighborhoods. It wasn’t what they did so much as that they were there. In recent years, California judges have looked increasingly askance at laws that appeared to target poor people. Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne responded by devising an ordinance that on its face appeared socioeconomically neutral. Big vehicles, he opined, posed a threat to traffic safety; they blocked views. The new ordinance abandoned any reference to RVs, referring instead to oversized vehicles.
Lost on the City Council and those who usually weigh in on such matters were the broader implications of the proposed language. Also included in the new prohibition would be Sprinters — a new, high-profiled variant of the cargo van that’s popular with utility companies, Cox Cable, contractors, tradespeople, surfers, and people aggressive about their enjoyment of the outdoors.
As Safe Parking administrators sought out new parking spaces, Sprinter owners mobilized and waged a revolt of their own. Calonne helped craft legislation that would either exempt service vehicles outright or allow their owners to apply for permits.
Homeless advocate Marin has vowed to sue. If large vehicles are inherently unsafe, how can City Hall justify allowing them in some cases and not in others? The whole rationale, he’s insisted, is an elaborate sham designed to obscure a simple truth: City Hall is cracking down on the homeless. Besides, he’s noted, no traffic safety reports exist to substantiate City Hall’s claim that oversized vehicles cause such problems.
In the meantime, Two Poneys’ troubles are mostly solved, but not completely. He has to be out of his daytime lot no later than 5:30 in the evening. But the nighttime space Safe Parking provides doesn’t open up until 7 p.m.