What is happening with RV's in West Seattle? Lisa Herbold responds
In response to reader inquiries, Westside Seattle reached out to District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold's office to get clarification on enforcement of the 72 hour parking rule for RV's in Seattle.
In June, a large encampment was cleared from Andover Street SW and while that was effective in addressing that area that had become the scene of several incidents of criminal actiivty, it appeared to some in West Seattle that quite a number of the RV's had simply moved to Harbor Ave. SW.
Herbold also offered this update from Seattle Police.
I just wanted to update everyone on the progress at Harbor Ave SW.
Thanks to our partners at SDOT/PEOs the burnt RV has been towed away and today SPU PM James Shepard did a Geo-clean of the area.
Highlights were the ROW, Bike lanes, and sidewalks were cleared.
Some great teamwork was accomplished there in the last week.
There are still 7 RVs located there, SPU will conduct a Geo clean at least once monthly at this location
SW Precinct ”
A letter and means by which people can file a complaint is being sent out by Councilmember Herbold's office regarding this issue:
Thank you for reaching out to me regarding RVs with people living in them parked on Harbor Avenue. Many constituents have expressed concerns about the fact that one of the RVs on Harbor Avenue recently caught fire.
There are three ways to file a complaint regarding the concerns like garbage removal, needles, or to report an unauthorized encampment (either tent encampment or RVs)
I want to make sure that you understand the types of responses that may (or may not) result when you file a complaint.
Enforcement of the 72-hour Parking Law and RV Remediation Program:
In May, SDOT announced they are resuming full 72-hour parking enforcement. Previously, enforcement had been suspended due in response to the COVID pandemic. While the City had not been enforcing the 72-hour parking law during the COVID pandemic, it is important to note that the decision to limit enforcement of this law towards people living in their vehicles predates the COVID19 moratorium. Even before the enactment of the 72-hour parking law moratorium in response to COVID19 and CDC guidance, SPD had been using discretion, and generally only enforcing the law against people living in their vehicles after outreach and referral efforts and generally focused on areas selected for the RV remediation program. This Seattle Times article about a Washington State Supreme Court case is a useful explanation for the legal limits the City is operating under regarding individuals living in their RVs and the reason for why SPD so carefully uses its discretion, rather than simply towing any vehicle in violation of the law.
So, in other words, even though the moratorium on the enforcement of the 72-hour parking law has been lifted, it doesn’t mean every complaint will result in enforcement. SDOT, SPD, and SPU will be prioritizing enforcement according to an assessment of impacts using the RV Remediation Program.
RV encampment remediation and enforcement of the 72 hour parking limit ordinance is prioritized based on safety conditions but also with a consideration of the number of fires and shots fired at those locations. See here for some additional detail about the Executive’s approach toward enforcement:
Additional Information about the RV Remediation Program:
In 2018 Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), working with the Seattle Police Department (SPD), and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), began a pilot program called RV Remediation. The program specifically addresses trash in the public right of way and illegally parked RVs.
Over several years I have been working to expand the RV Remediation program. First, during the 2018 budget process I successfully proposed additional funding for the RV Remediation program to expand it from servicing 6 locations a month, to 7 locations a month in an effort to address the trash and illegally parked RVs in all areas of the city. Since then, the RV Remediation program has been expanded to serve 14-16 separate locations each month.
Before the pandemic, 93% of all RVs/vehicles encountered by the RV Remediation Program left voluntarily to allow for safe clean-up of areas with problematic RVs and vehicles in the City right-of-way. Many of these vehicles return to the same location, but by leaving for a period of time the city is given the opportunity to clean the area.
In May, the Mayor’s Office reported a verified RV encampment snapshot of 225 RVs. Enforcement will not happen everywhere at once. And it is important to remember the reality is that, unless we start doing something differently, enforcement of the 72- hour parking law in one location, will mean more enforcement will then be requested at the new locations where those vehicles move. One thing I’ve learned is that RV residents are a different group, with different needs, from other folks experiencing homelessness. They quite literally already have a home, and they are unlikely to leave that behind for a shelter, where they wouldn’t have space to store their belongings or put a lock on their door.
What if the RV location that I have filed a complaint about is not prioritized by the Executive for enforcement of the 72 hours parking limit law?
As you know, the City Council writes the laws; we don’t enforce the law, nor do we decide how best to prioritize enforcement among several competing law enforcement demands. The implementation, prioritization, and enforcement of the City’s laws is a power vested in the Executive Branch of government.
For people who file a complaint about a location where RVs have parked for more than 72 hours, and it is not prioritized by the Executive departments who are weighing complaints and impacts all over the city to determine where action is prioritized, there are some other programs described below designed to help.
RV Pump Out Services:
I proposed, and the Council adopted, a program of mobile pump-out services for RVs; this allows for the pump-out of 40-64 RVs per month. This program protects our waterways from contamination and was developed in response to recommendations that I requested of the City Auditor. We need to protect our investments in clean waterways; SPU has spent almost $66 million over the last ten years to reduce the harmful effects of stormwater runoff and protect our waterways.
During the budget process for 2022, the Council added an additional $1 million to support additional wastewater and clean-up services for RVs. This funding is also meant to support the purple bag distribution program as well as "geo cleans," which are additional trash pickup services around RV sites in targeted geographical areas of the city.
At the beginning of the public health emergency in March 2020, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) expanded their goals to provide increased hygiene services. SPU averages over 100 pumps-outs every two months and they expect to continue providing this level of service. Furthermore, SPU has developed program flyers for outreach and has created a text service to communicate with RV occupants about when and where the next pump-out will take place. SPU is also partnering with Saint Vincent DePaul, helping to connect RV occupants with additional services during the pump-out.
RV Garbage Services:
In addition to the RV remediation program mentioned above, there are important smaller cleaning efforts SPU calls ‘pocket cleans,’ 185 of those over the last 17 months, approximately 11 per month.
What About an RV Lot?
Below is information from my newsletter about legislation that allocates funding for a pilot safe lot program for RVs, and allow people who accept housing to store their vehicle:
RV Storage and RV Safe Lots: Many of you have written to me with concerns about services for people living in RVs near your homes or businesses. While Seattle Public Utilities does offer RV pump-out services and garbage pickup, I have long advocated for the City to establish RV safe lots, where RV owners may safely park their vehicles and access services.
The Seattle Rescue Plan included $500,000 to establish a pilot safe lot program. My amendment expands the use of that funding, so that the City can safely store RVs for owners who accept referrals into shelter or housing. Folks living in RVs may worry that their RV could be stolen, impounded or fall into disrepair if they accept a referral into shelter or housing that would require them to leave it behind. Storing their RV temporarily while they move indoors can help those who fear losing their biggest asset, which has also doubled as a safe and secure home.
Separately, at the county level, County Executive Constantine announced his proposal for homelessness investments from ARPA: Bringing 500 people inside, creating 400 jobs – American Rescue Plan homelessness strategies - King County. It includes $5 million to support vehicle and RV residents:
Unfortunately, last year, former Mayor Durkan’s office notified the public that they did not intend to use the funds that the Council allocated for the RV safe lot. The Council has the power to appropriate funds but does not have the power to force the Mayor to spend those funds. Instead, the Executive transitioned “the Council’s investment in developing and implementing a response to RV occupancy to the KCRHA so they can deliver a client-centered, consumer-informed program.” KCRHA passed their budget with these funds on January 13, 2022. The Request for Proposal was released this spring for almost $2 million, you can see an overview of that here. KCRHA has convened a vehicle residency workgroup that is working on solutions for vehicle residents across a lot of specific subplans, you can see that presentation here. The funds for the RV Safe Lot have been awarded to a provider and I hope we will learn about an implementation plan soon.
By approving significant new resources to address homelessness in the 2021 Budget and the Seattle Rescue Plan, Council has made it possible to take action to help more people leave homelessness behind. The Council will no doubt continue to provide oversight of the funds they have appropriated and ask for updates on the spending.