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Washington Municipalities Partner on RV Storage Project

By Matthew Nash

The City of Port Angeles in Washington was the first of three municipalities this summer to agree to a 10-year contract worth up to $10,000 with Evergreen Towing to construct storage for up to 17 RVs at its Alpine Wrecking and Towing facility in Port Angeles.

As part of the agreement, the City of Sequim and Clallam County would also pay up to the same amount, while towing RVs would remain under each jurisdiction’s protocols, according to City of Port Angeles documentation.

According to City of Port Angeles documents, the additional RV space will cost about $25,000 in materials.

Port Angeles Police chief Brian Smith said via email the police department “deals with a consistent number of junk/abandoned RVs and junk/ abandoned trailers.”

“The reason we are working on this is we frequently have the authority to tow or otherwise remove a junk or abandoned RV or trailer, but have no place to take the vehicle,” he said. “Some large vehicles remain on the street or in a right of way in Port Angeles long after we have the legal authority to remove them.”

Amy Bundy, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy ​​, said derelict RVs are common in unincorporated Clallam County and most tow companies won’t accept them because “there’s nowhere to put them.”

“(For some) we have to destroy them on site because they were certified junk,” she said. “People will live in them until they are unlivable.”

Sequim Police chief Sheri Crain said the City of Sequim is working through the contract process as well. “The fact that we have someplace to tow RVs can help all of us,” she said. “It’s a capacity issue.”

Sequim concerns

With the crunch for low income housing continuing, RVs are becoming more common as primary residences in places without proper amenities, municipality staffers report.

“It’s kind of a new thing for this area, but not for the state,” Crain said. “Towing them has become more difficult, though, she added.

An RV was parked partially on private property behind Sequim Village Shopping Center and on public right-of-way. The center’s property manager, Michelle Ridgway, said the vehicle was parked there for a year-and-a-half. She recalled calling the police the morning after it first parked.

“Tons of people were coming and going from the RV and I called the police several times as they were digging through our garbage, and going to the bathroom behind our building,” Ridgway said.

She said she’s “baffled” as to why the RV wasn’t towed sooner because she has “No Trespassing” signs posted.

The police department said the delay was a combination of people living in the RV sporadically, and the tow company or salvage yard being unavailable.

The City of Sequim paid more than $3,000 for it to be towed to and dismantled.

Homesteading

Whether or not law enforcement can tow RVs and other vehicles is tied largely to the 2021 Supreme Court of Washington’s ruling for “homestead rights” for people using their vehicles as their primary residence.

Part of their rights ensure vehicles cannot be sold to satisfy the residents’ debts, and that person(s) may not be forced to pay fines or fees that are considered excessive in relation to their income, according to City of Sequim documents.

“Law enforcement or code enforcement may be able intervene if there are accumulations of garbage, unsanitary conditions, or other hazards, but that does not guarantee removal of the vehicle,” City Fact Sheets state.

Nearby residents have called police about other RVs, too, with police reporting most were parked legally; there were complaints of trespassing, theft and other issues as well.

At a March 15 meeting among downtown Sequim business owners, Crain and Hill said if an RV is on private property then people should talk to the owner about a possible eviction process while case law covers public parking differently.

“The problem is [the RV] is their home and we can’t evict people from their home,” Crain said then. “We have to go through certain processes to evict them.”

She said at the meeting RVs or vehicles will move before it goes far in the eviction process and/or the towing company doesn’t have space or the time to move a vehicle, so the process starts over.

Possible option

At the downtown merchants meeting, Olympic Community Action Program (OlyCAP) representatives said that various agencies started conversations with different municipalities about safe places for RV parking but months later no action has been taken.

Bundy said she’s unaware of any project in the works or ongoing conversation about establishing a facility like the Caswell Brown Village in Jefferson County.

Kathy Morgan, director of Housing and Community Development with OlyCAP, said she and staff have met with Sequim city government and Clallam County commissioners to discuss possible options for establishing a facility in Clallam similar to the village.

OlyCAP has also led tours of the village for city and county officials, she said.

“We need land so we’re just waiting on the city or county to give us land so we can construct something like (Caswell Brown Village) in Clallam County,” she said.

To proceed, OlyCAP would need land before pursuing funding, Morgan said.

Sequim officials have said at numerous city meetings they visited the facility and it’s nicely run.

Crain said they and partner agencies will continue to help work with people on their different issues until they’re solved.

“Solutions are not easy and take time,” she said.

Matthew Nash is a reporter for the Sequim Gazette in Washington.

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