Mark Pestrella

Los Angeles County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella addressses the California Coastal Commission on Thursday, Oct. 17.

Commuters along Pacific Coast Highway driving into and out of Santa Monica may have started to notice a change in scenery along the roadway since last Thursday.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 22, it appeared the majority of vehicles—including campers, RVs, trucks and cars—that had occupied the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Coastline Drive had vanished—with at least a dozen or more reappearing one mile west, parked at Las Tunas Beach within the City of Malibu.

So, why the move?

A new LA County parking restriction was just approved by the California Coastal Commission to block parking overnight between Topanga Canyon Road and Coastline Drive—while there remains no restriction in place for a similar stretch in Malibu.

When the commission voted last Thursday, Oct. 17, it was to deny an appeal of the new ordinance, thereby allowing the parking restriction to go into effect. That law bans parking on the land-side of PCH between midnight and 2 a.m. and on the coast-side of PCH from 2-4 a.m., in the stretch from Topanga to Coastline in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

The appeal stated the restriction would potentially block public access, but commissioners (and commission staff) believed general public access would be enhanced thanks to better turnover.

“The county has indicated that the intent of the staggered parking restriction at this location is to increase parking turnover and discourage parking of recreational and commercial vehicles overnight and for extended periods,” according to a report prepared by coastal commission staff. “Safety and sanitation issues have been identified by the county and nearby residents in this area as a result of overnight camping within vehicles and a lack of support facilities. The county believes that encouraging parking turnover at night will help address those issues; however, the county has also indicated that a safe parking program is needed to address the issue of overnight parking of vehicles and the county’s homeless initiative is currently working on a safe parking program, similar to a program that was adopted by the City of Los Angeles,” the staff report for the hearing stated.

“I wonder if this is really about public access or if it’s a thinly veiled attempt to restrict homeless individuals from being able to park safely... I’m concerned,” Coastal Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh said.

Coastal Commission Deputy Director Steve Hudson said that homelessness was the core problem for parking in the area.

“That is the goal of this, really, underlying it, is to deal with this homeless issue,” Hudson said, adding, “We are sensitive to that issue ... It’s a huge challenge up and down the coast, as you know.”

When asked to comment, LA County spokespeople emphasized the need for increased access in the area.

“The purpose is to facilitate parking turnover, thereby facilitating coastal access,” according to LA County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella, who spoke before the commission at the near-empty Chula Vista City Hall Chambers Thursday evening. Pestrella mentioned the county was aware that in addition to unlimited camping, there were people “running small businesses there,” which was a concern for the county.

Pestrella, who emphasized respecting the needs of the homeless population, or what he referred to as “unhoused people” in Los Angeles County, also pointed out the lack of sewer and water facilities.

Multiple commissioners including Mike Wilson and Effie Turnbull-Sanders raised the issues of not only homeless services in the area but enforcement of the restriction, with no clear response to either query.

Wilson added restricting parking in the .7-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to care for homeless people in California.

“We keep talking about how we have a problem. Really, the problem is, we have a housing crisis,” Wilson added. “That’s the problem ... The problem is they got nowhere to go. We gotta address that.”

It appeared many people living in that stretch simply moved their vehicles across Malibu city limits to park at Las Tunas Beach.

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