Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Council leans toward grandfathering RVs and boats already in town

By Tanya Rose


CONCORD — City leaders are leaning toward letting people park their RVs and boats in their driveways — but only if they still own or rent their current house and if they get a special city permit.

"I'm not an RV hater," said Councilwoman Helen Allen, after a spirited, hours-long study session at Centre Concord on Monday night. "I'm a junk hater. I don't care if you have an RV — just be reasonable," she said, noting there are problems throughout town with people letting their RVs and trailers sit for years at a time and fall apart.

The proposed "grandfathering" method is similar to what Antioch decided to do last year after a fiery, yearlong debate about where residents should be allowed to park their recreational vehicles. San Ramon also allows grandfathering.

The idea behind it is that as people change homes, they are then forced to store their RVs in the side yard behind a fence, or in the backyard. In the long-term, fewer and fewer vehicles will sit in driveways.

"It's a good compromise," said Councilman Guy Bjerke. "It's fair to those with RVs but also eventually eliminates them from front driveways, and that's the goal."

The council hasn't made a decision on the proposed ordinance yet, but council members directed City Manager Ed James to refine rules that would come back before the council in September or October for final approval.

Suggestions by council members Advertisementand a resident-led RV task force included:

A number of RVs or boats would be allowed in the backyard, as long as only one is visible

RVs in side yards wouldn't be encumbered by setbacks — a big reason why many people say they can't fit their vehicles in their side yard right now

RVs in side yards would have to be hidden by a 6-foot fence

Residents could keep RVs, trailers and boats in their driveways as long as they live in their current house and get a special permit from the city

Nonpermitted RVs would be allowed to sit in the driveway for 72 hours — about the time it takes a family to prepare for a trip or unload after a trip.

The council also is leaning toward proactively enforcing the new ordinance, whatever it may be, rather than making it complaint-driven.

The issue bubbled up last June when Councilman Mark Peterson suggested the city start enforcing its RV parking ordinance, which had been dormant since 1994. For policy reasons, the council back then had told staff members to stop enforcing the rules. The old law prohibits RVs to be parked on driveways, front yards or on streets.

But when 243 RV owners were ticketed for unlawfully parking their vehicles, after years of being allowed to do whatever they wanted, they lashed out at city leaders. Many said they had relied on the city's treatment of RVs when they moved to Concord, and that it is a property-rights issue.

Monday night, people were just as impassioned. Resident Jim Disney pointed out that out of 603 complaints to city Neighborhood Preservation workers during a six-month period last year, 11 were about RVs, boats and trailers.

"You're talking about 11 complaints — that's minutiae," he said. "It's the little stuff. You've got the town all worked up over little stuff. When I bought a piece of property in Concord, I bought a bundle of rights and you want to cut them down."

Barbara Malone said she finds the grandfathering idea discriminatory.

"It works against new people moving in," she said. "These young families don't have a lot of money to go to Europe; they travel here in the U.S."

Others said they worry about blight in Concord and argue that RVs and boats parked in driveways contribute to that, along with declining housing values.

"Would you buy the house next to me if I had the Queen Mary and a log cabin parked in my driveway?" said resident Joe Lamanna.

"Curb appearance is a selling point. People notice the home next door."

Of Contra Costa's 19 cities, 17 have some restrictions on where residents can park their RVs, boats and trailers.

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