By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Portlanders call them Zombie RVs. The folks in LA just call them a nightmare. And city officials on the West Coast’s largest city are having serious problems figuring out how to get rid of them. They’re old RVs, parked illegally, creating an eyesore, and fraying the nerves of the locals.
As more and more people find the price of sticks-and-bricks housing out of reach, a lot are moving into RVs. One step away from living in a cardboard box in a back alley, they have to have some place to go, so the streets of Los Angeles are now becoming an ersatz RV park. Estimates say nearly 2,400 people live in motorhomes on the streets. Many of these regularly move their rigs to dodge parking enforcement — but then what happens when the engine turns up its toes and the rig won’t go?
For a while, city officials had contracts with three local towing companies to remove and impound anything over 10,000 pounds. But now, there’s only Pepe’s — the other two outfits canceled their contracts, citing impossible issues with taking in big rigs. Much of it comes down to money. In 2016, LA police ordered the tow-away of about 1,000 motorhomes. Of these, only half were “bailed out” by their owners. That left 500 motorhomes stuck in tow company lots, somehow to be disposed of.
Usually abandoned vehicles end up at auction, with the tow company figuring they’ll get their money after vehicles clear the auction block. But the condition of most of these shelter homes are such that some won’t even sell. For those unsellable units, the next stop would be a scrap yard. But the scrap yard began to balk at taking in motorhomes that were loaded with hazards. Want to bring in an RV for scrapping, then first the tow companies were told they had to remove the refrigerators (ammonia refrigerant) and propane tanks, and ensure that the holding tanks were empty. Too much for two of the city’s contracted tow firms, they simply told the city they couldn’t handle the work — get somebody else to do it. Even without the concerns of removing “hazards,” the tow companies said so many of the rigs were in such bad shape, some would fall apart while being towed, or frightened tow company employees were concerned with being attacked by fleas, mice — or worse.
Los Angeles police have had to establish a new protocol for towing big RVs. If the RV is part of a crime or accident investigation, it gets towed right away. Otherwise the rig may sit for as long as two weeks waiting for a haul-out. Even then, it might wait a bit longer. With Pepe’s Towing being the last contractor on the list even willing to haul out an RV, the backlog for that outfit can stretch well into a month.
Trying to extricate itself from a seeming morass, the city offered towing contracts to other contractors who normally only haul rigs that scale in at less than 10,000 pounds. And to sweeten the deal, they’ll give the company that does the hauling $540 to help out with waste and hazardous materials problems if the rig has to be scrapped. If the company can actually sell the unit at auction, they’ll pay the difference if the RV doesn’t sell for $540.
It’s a plan that might work. But like a lot of things in this imperfect world, it’s a band aid patch on an ugly sore that’s symptomatic of a larger worldwide problem.
For more information, see the article that spawned our story in the mercurynews.com here.