Cinda Larimer has been living in a friend’s garage for the past seven months. She, her boyfriend and her 18-year-old godson were supposed to get into housing through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but a series of setbacks left them without their own roof, Larimer said.
They’ve been gifted an RV and have been waiting for hazardous trees to be removed from their friend’s property before they can live in it. They were hoping to purchase an empty lot in Paradise on which to place it, but then they heard rumors that the urgency ordinance allowing camping without power and water hookups expired last month and they started looking for alternatives.
“I was under the impression you had to pay for permits for camping, water, septic, power, all of it at once,” she said. “I lost everything, even my job, in the Camp Fire. We don’t have that kind of money to pay for everything at once.”
Like many others in similar situations, Larimer had been misinformed. Social media has been abuzz with the same complaints, and Action News Now reported, on Nov. 22, that “The Town of Paradise will be sending out letters to property owners, letting them know that dry camping has ended, and how to proceed. Residents must get permits and hook up to electricity, water, and septic. Those who are out of compliance will face administrative fees.”
But that’s not the case.
“It’s not that you can’t dry camp, you just need a permit,” explained Susan Hartman, director of community development for the town of Paradise. “If people want to tie into a septic system, [Paradise Irrigation District] or PG&E, then they need to have a temporary use permit in place for that.”
An urgency ordinance, Hartman said, was passed in May and allowed people to set up temporary housing on their properties, once cleared of debris, for 180 days without any permits. The provision for unpermitted camping expired Nov. 22.
“It was never intended to be a long-term solution for people,” said Paradise Mayor Jody Jones. “People can still stay on their property while they’re rebuilding in their RVs; they just need a permit from the town and they need to be able to tie in to their septic system.”
The main reason for this, Hartman explained, is so the town knows where people are living. Police and fire officials, for instance, need to be aware of people’s locations in the case of an emergency.
“You’ll need a site plan showing where the RV is located—because the urgency ordinance does require setbacks,” she said. “We’ll check on the locations—are they on roads with no street signs or where the address isn’t visible? The goal is to be coordinating with police and fire with updated lists so they know where these RVs are located.”
Thus far, the town has issued 266 temporary use permits for RVs. Many of those were people who wanted to hook in to power, water and septic while rebuilding, Hartman said. Over the past month, code enforcement officers canvassed the town to identify unpermitted temporary dwellings; they located about 500. They were all sent letters this week alerting them to the fact they need to apply for a permit by Dec. 31, Hartman said. The permit costs $174.97.
Although dry camping still will be allowed—until Dec. 31, 2020, with a permit—in Paradise, some folks may still find themselves in a difficult spot because their accommodations aren’t adequate, said Rick Trent, code enforcement officer for the town. RVs must be “self-contained,” meaning they must have tanks for sewage and water.
In surveying the properties where people are camping, he said, he noted some people are living in tents; others in tent trailers. Those will not be allowed going forward.
Given the fact that the weather is getting cold, Jones said, she’d like to see everyone with a roof over their heads and running water and electricity. Without those basics, “it’s not a good, healthy situation for anybody to be in,” she said.
This week, after the CN&R’s deadline, she said town officials were planning to meet with managers of local mobile home parks to assess their progress and determine their ability to accommodate some of those folks.
“We’re trying to find alternative places for people to go if they’re not able to put hookups on their own properties,” she said.
County residents—those in unincorporated Magalia, Concow and other burned areas—are in a different boat. The urgency ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors, which is set to expire on Dec. 31, allows for dry camping without a permit and is expected to be extended, according to Casey Hatcher, deputy administrative officer. It will be on the board’s Dec. 17 agenda.
The county’s ordinance differs from the town of Paradise’s, however, in that it does not include an option for permitted dry camping, Hatcher said. But staff recognizes that the rebuilding process is a lengthy one and many people are still awaiting things like tree removals, insurance claims and septic repairs. The county has a disaster case management program, but it has a waiting list.
“The reality is we lost 14,000 living units,” she said. “There’s not been a loss of housing stock like that in a disaster in the state of California. While people have found temporary places to live, not everyone can [find permanent housing right now] or has resources to make that happen. We’re doing our best to connect people with resources … where we can.”