Ballard Alliance concerned over proposed changes to loosen RV camping laws

Residents and local civic groups are voicing concerns over a city proposal to loosen RV camping rules.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s draft legislation to address RV encampments came from a “Vehicular Living Workgroup”, made up of representatives from several city homeless taskforce groups, including the Ballard Task Force on Homelessness and Hunger. The group participated in four meetings through March and April and formalized the following recommendations for changes to RV encampment laws:

  • The creation of Safety Lots, in Seattle and around King County, providing off-street parking and access to a bathroom or portable toilet.
  • Change the requirements for having to move a vehicle/RV every 24-72 hours in select zones.
  • Advocate for legislative changes to laws governing tabs for the indigent, and in the meantime, foster a harm reduction program countywide to avoid having tabs remain the prime reason for ticketing.
  • Open opportunities for private business to host 2-3 vehicles in business parking on site, providing security for the business.
  • Allow 3-5 vehicles be proximate on-street in non-retail, non-residential neighborhoods, forming an interim authorized parking option, with trash, porta-potties, and outreach.

Other suggestions are in line with homeless encampment aims, such as providing easier access to healthcare. There’s even a proposal to explore funding for vehicular residents to learn auto maintenance skills at local vocational colleges.

However, local groups such as the Ballard Alliance are concerned about the proposals. In a letter to O’Brien, Ballard Alliance Executive Director Mike Stewart said that the group is particularly concerned about the creation of new RV safe parking lots, and expressed disappointment that there was “limited representation” of business and residential leaders in the workgroup. 

“While the Ballard, Interbay and SODO neighborhoods are three areas in the City most affected by the RV population, the creation of new RV safe lots would have significant impacts to business and residential communities located throughout the City,” Stewart wrote. “I would encourage the City Council to convene community, business and residential leaders from throughout the City prior to advancing any legislative solutions.”

Stewart said the Alliance supports some of the proposals, such as funding to study the issue of RV camping, implementing outreach and support services for vehicular residents, and an increase in mobile healthcare services.

Ballard resident Greg Kirkos echoed the concerns of the Alliance. “I live in south Ballard, and near streets where there are RVs,” Kirkos said. “There have been
fires, crime, and recently, a murder.”

Councilmember O’Brien recorded a YouTube video to address some of the concerns. “Nearly 40 percent of people who are living without shelter are living in vehicles,” he said. “And unfortunately we don’t have a system that’s actually working to make that better.” O’Brien says they understand there are thousands of people currently living in their vehicles.

“We can stop making the situation worse by ticketing, ticketing, towing – and start to get them the services they need so they get stabilized and back into permanent housing.”

O’Brien said he and the workgroup will continue to draft the legislation and may have something to share with the public as early as next week.

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