Sitting in the community meeting Salinas City Councilman Tony Barrera and activist Wes White held June 18 to discuss the pending ordinance banning RVs from parking on public streets and parking lots, one thing struck me most: Shouldn’t they have done this six months ago?

By “this” I mean hold a community meeting, not go ahead and ban RV parking. The community meeting came just a day before the scheduled June 19 council vote on the ordinance, which would ban street parking for anything on wheels more than 7 feet high and 20 feet long.

When the ordinance was first brought to council on June 5, the city stomped its feet and denied accusations that the ordinance targets people who are living in their RVs, rendering them effectively homeless. So let me make it clear: This ordinance targets people who are living in their RVs, rendering them effectively homeless. When the ordinance, passed 4-3, takes effect and people begin losing their vehicles because the city tows them, those same people will be really homeless.

As Barrera told about 25 attendees, rather than coming to a meeting to throw stones at the council, he wanted people to bring their ideas. On that note, I want to introduce him to Tyrrell Morris. The U.S. Navy veteran, former radar intercept officer and NASA engineer is loaded with ideas – if only she can get someone to listen to them.

Morris, who flew in the back seat of an F-14 Tomcat during Operation Desert Storm and in the Persian Gulf during the Iranian hostage crisis, left NASA in 1991, strapped on her first pair of high heels, began her transition into womanhood and never looked back. She came to Monterey County in 2009 to help care for her ailing mother; in 2017, her mother moved into a managed care facility and Morris, who lives on disability payments, took some of her savings, bought a travel trailer and a vehicle to pull it and began living in it. She says she’s on a waiting list for transitional housing through the Veterans Transition Center.

Morris has tried to start a safe parking program in Salinas, hoping to replicate the success of the One Starfish program Tia Sukin and Michael Fechter launched on the Peninsula. Sukin and Fechter, in fact, gave Morris their playbook, and she ran with it.

Or at least she’s trying to run with it.

She surveyed more than a half-dozen sites for a safe parking program and organized meetings with Assemblymember Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter and Monterey County supervisors John Phillips and Simon Salinas.

“I was promised, ‘We’ll work on it,’ and that was early February and I’ve heard nothing since,” Morris says. “From Caballero’s office, it’s, ‘We’ll call you back,’ from Phillips, ‘We’ll call you back,’ from Gunter, ‘He’s not in the office.’”

Morris has more wherewithal than many people in similar living circumstances. She pays about $150 a month to park her RV in a safe place, off the street, where she’s not being chased from location to location every night. Her rig is registered and she doesn’t dump her garbage or sewage tanks illegally.

“I’m just another person with a dog in the fight and I’m fighting to help all the other dogs who don’t have a warm bed,” she says. “I’m just trying to find a safe place, like we all are.”

There are, of course, rational reasons behind the ordinance. Some rigs are unregistered and in such bad disrepair that the sewage tanks leak. Some people dump and run, leaving behind garbage and sewage on purpose. Some park in such a way that pedestrians and drivers can’t see around them. Those are all good reasons for an ordinance. But there are also existing laws to address those issues.

A wholesale ban without options will only lead to desperate people living in even more desperate circumstances.

“When one option closes, people aren’t going away, they are becoming more desperate,” Pastor Steve Lundeen of Salinas’s First United Methodist Church, which runs multiple programs for the poor and homeless, said at the meeting. “I’m seeing more desperation this summer. I’m feeling a sense of hopelessness as options close and I’m wondering if this is a good idea or necessary.”

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