Great Highway car campers draw neighborhood complaints – and police action
Concerns from residents of the Outer Sunset about an increase in the number of people sleeping in cars and vans along the Lower Great Highway brought a swift response from police Wednesday, as officers from Taraval Station visited the RVs that night to post warnings on vehicles parked illegally.
But neighborhood residents say they’ve grown so tired of dealing with the issue that they intend to pursue changes in City parking rules to provide a more comprehensive approach to it.
Wednesday morning, the La Playa / Great Highway Neighborhood Watch group distributed a set of photographs to its members showing 11 vehicles in which the group said people were illegally sleeping overnight, and by 6 p.m. that evening police were in the area, going from car to car. Early Thursday morning, bright pink notices were visible on the windshields of at least half a dozen vehicles parked between Judah Street and Lincoln Boulevard.
Campers of various kinds have been common in that area for years, but nearby residents say that the number of people sleeping in cars and RVs now matches historic highs. And when the car-camping population reaches that level, they say, other neighborhood problems often follow.
John Zwolinski of the neighborhood watch group says that the car camping itself isn’t that much of a problem. Some of the people living in RVs there aren’t looking for trouble, he says, just a quiet place to sleep.
But “the problem is all the quality-of-life issues that go along with it,” he said.
Zwolinski said that occupants of some RVs have dumped raw sewage from vehicle tanks into storm drains and onto sidewalks while others got drunk every day and harassed people in the neighborhood. He said that a man once threatened him with a gun when he saw Zwolinski write down the license-plate number of his vehicle. Plus, he said, some car-campers in the past have used their vehicles as convenient locations for prostitution and drug sales.
Neighbors’ concerns about car campers are familiar to Sgt. Judy Riggle of the Police Department’s Taraval Station, which covers an area including the Sunset and Parkside districts.
“I’d noticed in the past couple days that [the number of car campers] seemed a little worse,” Riggle said.
Riggle said that police try to respond to neighborhood complaints as best they can, but sometimes there’s only so much they can do under the law. For instance, it’s illegal to sleep overnight in a car parked on city streets — but if police knock on the door of an RV in the middle of the night and the occupants don’t answer, officers can’t just barge in.
Many car campers know these legal limitations well, said Riggle.
“I don’t think we’ve had any citations for car camping in a long time, because they don’t answer the door,” she said.
Another issue is that some car campers know that the City sweeps many streets just every two weeks now, instead of the former weekly schedule, Riggle said — so they think they are allowed to stay in one spot until the next time the street sweeper comes.
“I think it became a real problem whn we went to every other week,” she said.
Zwolinski is sympathetic to the legal and staffing limitations of the SFPD.
“I’m really aware of what Taraval Station is trying to do with the resources they have,” Zwolinsky said.
Still, he said that his group would look into adjusting city parking rules.
They don’t want to use the two-hour time limits common in areas with residential-permit parking controls, he said, since so many beach-goers want to park for the day. He said that perhaps one alternative is to limit the size of vehicles that can be parked in the area.
Zwolinski said his group would take up parking regulations with Supervisor Carmen Chu, who recently called a hearing on crime and safety in the nearby western end of Golden Gate Park.