Immediately following the Camp Fire, the Town Council adopted an urgency ordinance to address hazardous debris removal and to permit temporary living in RVs on properties without structures. Concerns over public health and safety are the main reasons why most municipalities prohibit living in RVs long-term. To address the temporary housing crisis created by the Camp Fire, the council amended the zoning code to provide two allowances:
1. Dry camping without a permit for a six-month period
2. Allow permitted RV living with certain conditions (hooked up to utilities, connected to an operational septic system, and garbage service) until December 31, 2020.
The “upside” of this council action provided residents the option to live on their properties if they had no other place to reside. After the fire, housing was a scarcity throughout the entire county. To address this, the Council adopted several priorities, plans, and projects, including establishing the Building Resiliency Center (BRC) and hired extra personnel to assist individuals to begin rebuilding their homes. Priority ONE for the Council after the fire was to help individual homeowners rebuild and move back home. A strong rebuild assistance effort has been underway for nearly two years and will continue for many years to come. Helping individuals rebuild their homes while moving forward as a community is our focus.
Unfortunately, we have come to discover some of the downsides of RV living for prolonged periods of time. Crime, incompatible use with neighborhoods, illegal squatting, and noise from generators are a few examples of what Paradise is experiencing. Impacts such as these are not conducive to community recovery; and, if left unchecked, can turn into serious threats to public health and safety. The Police Department, Code Enforcement, and Town Council receive many complaints from citizens ranging from personal safety and quality of life issues to major health concerns.
There are approximately 300 unpermitted RV’s in Town. Many of them are not connected to septic. The Town receives regular reports of people dumping their raw sewage on lots in Town. This is a public health issue that cannot be overlooked. We are also finding several unpermitted RV’s that are situated on properties not legally owned by the occupants. Many of these do not have permission from the owners to occupy them. Illegal squatting is a concern raised by many out-of-town property owners and is a difficult issue for town officials to track. Another downside is that many unpermitted RV’ers do not have garbage service. The Town is seeing an uptick of illegal dumping of garbage, which left unchecked, will produce many illegal “dumping sites” that are difficult and costly to clean up. The cost to eliminate these types of dumps and brownfields always fall onto the taxpayers.
The Town recognizes that many people who are living in RVs on their own properties have a plan to rebuild, but need time, money, or other assistance. Our goal is to help those who need it while mitigating crime, illegal/incompatible uses, and public health issues.
To have a clearer picture of the situation, Town staff is working to gather information from Camp Fire victims who are living on their properties in RVs. We need quantifiable information to determine the extent of the need and what resources we can put towards that end. We cannot apply for grant funding without analyzing the needs. Staff at the Building Resiliency Center (BRC) is currently taking a survey of those living in RVs to determine the scope of these unmet needs. Although we might hear anecdotally about the issues on social media, we need a more complete, factual picture to devise a multi-pronged solution that we can bring to the Town Council for consideration.
Here is what we know now:
○ Currently, there are 521 permitted RVs living on their property in the Town of Paradise. Of these, 31 have homes already rebuilt, and 120 have active building permits.
○ The number of Temporary RV applications peaked in December of 2019 and have since sharply declined.
○ There are an estimated 300 RVs who do not have a temporary use permit on file. Both code enforcement and law enforcement are reaching out to each to assist and connect them with resources.
Early survey results, based on conversations with those living in RVs in Town include the following:
○ Need more time to go through the rebuild process
○ Waiting for funds (e.g. PG&E settlement)
○ Need some type of grant assistance or other types of gap financing due to being underinsured
○ Renting before the fire and now need to find a place to live
○ Occupying family or friend’s lots (some not victims of the fire and do not qualify for assistance
In December, the Council will have a more complete picture of the issues and will consider options. The current challenge is how to continue moving forward together as a community. How do we reclaim and rebuild Paradise AND help Camp Fire victims who are struggling to rebuild homes that were lost in the fire? These two recovery efforts can be accomplished at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. We need to dig deep and look for common solutions to the challenges that face us so we can move forward.
We are the pioneers of Paradise and we are responsible for our recovery and the future of our Town. In just two short years, many of the projects in our long-term recovery plan are underway—this is incredible news for our recovery! Soon the hazardous trees will be removed, utilities will be reworked, our roads will be resurfaced and many new homes will be rebuilt. The very fabric of our community—schools, churches, the museum, businesses, and other sectors of our Town will also be rebuilt. We look forward to a very bright future—together we will reach our goal: a fully restored, safe, beautiful, thriving community.
If you live in an RV in Paradise and have encountered obstacles to rebuilding or just have questions about the process, please call or email the Rebuild Advocates at (530) 872-6291 x429 or x430, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
With warm regards and hope for our future,
Paradise Town Manager