By Allen Cowgill
Although people voiced concerns about the treatment of unhoused residents who may be living in their cars, the City Council recently approved an update to Denver’s parking ordinance regarding large vehicles, with the intent of reducing the number of what are known as “junkers.”
The changes to the city’s parking ordinance include the amount of time that large vehicles can park in commercial and industrial areas on city streets and updated the rules to make it harder for junker vehicles and trailers to remain on city streets for longer than 24 hours.
The council also approved ways to make it easier for the city to tow and remove junker vehicles and trailers, and it increased the distance that large vehicles are supposed to move to still be legally parked from 100 feet to 700 feet.
Owners also have to significantly move the vehicle, not just parking it around the block, for example. Residents can now park in the same spot in front of their home as long as they move their car every 72 hours, something that used to be illegal. Under the new ordinance, a vehicle parked for 72 hours in one location would need to move a full block away after that time period to be compliant.
A last-minute amendment was made by District 6 Councilman Paul Kashmann to the bill to attempt to address concerns by homeless advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to give a 48-hour notice prior to removal of a junker if the vehicle is being used by an unhoused person as a residence. The amendment also added more reporting requirements for when vehicles are towed.
The measure passed 11 to 1, with District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca voting no, and Councilwoman Robin Kniech not present.
“I don’t expect anybody living on the street or in a vehicle or in a tent to be thrilled with this bill,” Kashmann said, adding it was commercial semi-trucks blocking alleyways in his district that first brought the issue to his attention years ago.
Through addressing those problems, Kashmann said difficulties with other vehicles became apparent.
“Until we have everybody off the streets and in dignified housing, we’re going to continue to have these discussions that we have to manage our city, and … we’ll do our best to take care of as many human beings as we can along the way,” he said.
When the ordinance was introduced at the City Council Land Use and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in April, Cindy Patton, senior director of operations for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI), said residents had complained that drivers in commercial areas were “playing a game” with the parking rules, only moving their vehicle and trailers a little bit to stay legally parked while hogging on-street parking.
Patton also said complaints came in about large trucks, junkers and inoperable vehicles parked for extended periods of time on city streets, often blocking the sidewalk. The new law will limit large vehicles to only be parked on city streets for two hours in residential, commercial and industrial areas. An exception for the rule is when a large vehicle is being used for services in that neighborhood or when the driver is staying nearby overnight.
The new policy expands the 24-hour parking limit on city streets to vehicles with attached campers and RVs larger than 22 feet as well as trailers attached to licensed vehicles to all zones of the city, not just residential areas. The definition of a junker vehicle now includes pull-behind trailers. A vehicle identified as a junker is now limited to 24 hours of parking on the street in all parts of the city.
Once a vehicle is identified as a junker, it must be removed from public streets or incur fines. CdeBaca said there could be “potential discriminatory unintended consequences” of the bill, and that unhoused residents don’t have a safe place to go with their vehicles.
The city is currently looking at expanding what are known as “safe parking spaces” that allow people to stay in their vehicle for a certain number of days.
The ACLU of Colorado stated in a letter prior to the recent council meeting that the bill had not received enough community input and may be harmful to residents, especially unhoused residents. The ACLU stated the provisions of the bill were overly broad and could be used as discriminatory surveillance to police marginalized communities. In the council meeting, at least a dozen people were present wearing buttons that said “No to poverty tows.”
Before voting yes on the bill, District 1 Councilwoman Amanda P. Sandoval said she intends to work on updating Denver’s ordinances so residents on low incomes can pay reduced fines and penalties.