Mayor breaks tie regarding residents living in vehicles


Jacob Rice

City of Ames Mayor John Haila speaks during an Ames City Council meeting on Jan. 24.

Ames Mayor John Haila broke a split vote among council members affirming a measure to investigate possible ordinances to limit the size of vehicles on residential streets after the council received numerous complaints of someone living in a school bus.

According to Ames City Attorney Mark Lambert, the constitutionality of the issue had different outcomes for a ban on people living in their vehicles in San Diego and Clearwater, Florida. In separate district courts, San Diego’s ordinance was proven unconstitutionally vague, and Clearwater’s was ruled constitutional, according to Lambert.

“The ordinances might be viewed as unconstitutionally vague. That is the same reasoning courts have used to strike down vagrancy laws and loitering laws,” Lambert said. “It’s not really known […] how the courts would rule on this.”

Ames Police Chief Geoff Huff said with current parking ordinances, the school bus is in compliance as long as it moves every 48 hours.

“There’s a wood-burning stove inside of it, that is concerning to me,” Huff said. “There are animals living inside of it as well; I don’t know if the conditions are necessarily appropriate, I don’t think our animal control supervisor believes they probably are.”

Haila questioned whether the ability to gain an occupancy permit should be considered.

“You would not be able to get an occupancy permit for any permanent house for someone to occupy without water, sewer, power, [and a] safe heating system provided,” Haila said. “So how can that vehicle qualify for safe habitable accommodation for somebody?”

At-large Rep. Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen was interested in allowing the choice for residents to go to an RV park but was not interested in forcing vehicles into that hypothetical lot.

“I think it’s maybe a problem that doesn’t need fixing,” Beatty-Hansen said. “I’m not keen really to add any prohibitions on parking.”

Ward Four Rep. Rachel Junck said she might be willing to consider limitations on the size of vehicles parked on residential streets.

“I’m really not very interested in anything with […] a ban on using a vehicle to live in or sleeping in a vehicle,” Junck said.

Ward Three Rep. Anita Rollins agreed with Junck and said this would be criminalizing people experiencing homelessness in Ames because they do not have adequate resources.

“Having worked with the school district, there are a number of families that are homeless,” Rollins said. “I am concerned, but I am open to if there is a way to address something that is unhealthy for individuals.

Ward One Rep. Gloria Betcher said the wood-burning stove and the well-being of animals in the vehicle should not be addressed with a parking code.

“I don’t know where that falls, is that something that should fall under inspections? Is it something else?” Betcher asked. “It seems to be a safe housing issue, but I don’t believe it’s covered currently under our code.”

Ward Two Rep. Tim Gartin said the council should be prioritizing the well-being of the neighborhood and added that this is not criminalizing homelessness in the same way that the city does not allow people to build shelters in their parks.

“We want to be compassionate for those who have very difficult choices and are forced to live in a vehicle or maybe they’re doing this by choice,” Gartin said. “On the other hand, we speak often about the importance of considering neighborhoods, and when we have an opportunity to really address the well-being of our neighborhoods we’re not going to consider the neighbors.”

Regarding the motion to investigate possible ordinances limiting vehicle sizes on residential streets, Betcher, Corrieri and Gartin voted for the motion and Beatty-Hansen, Rollins and Junck voted against it.

Following the 3-3 tie, Haila broke the tie passing the measure after clarifying with Lambert that the end goal would be to implement the measure as an ordinance.

The council unanimously passed a measure to investigate potential measures regarding the safety of a wood-burning stove and well-being of the animals in vehicles.

Lambert was unsure if there is a clear answer on whether the fire code for buildings would apply to a vehicle.

“I don’t know that we have jurisdiction over it, but that’s one thing we’d have to look at,” Lambert said. “Cars that are licensed by the state that are on city streets– we may not have the same jurisdiction over them [as buildings].”

Gartin encouraged the public to provide more input as no one from the public spoke on the topic during the meeting.

Additional Measures

The council unanimously approved setting March 28 as the date of the public hearing for the sale of lot 27 in the Baker Subdivision to Townhomes at Creekside, LLP. They also approved a purchase agreement 5-0, with Gartin abstaining due to conflict, for the sale of lot 8 in the Baker Subdivision to Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa.

The Ames Chamber of Commerce requests for the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market were all approved by the council except parking waivers for Saturdays from May 6 to Oct. 14 from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The requests include the closure of the 300 and 400 blocks of Main Street, Burnett Avenue from Main Street to the U.S. Bank drive-through and Tom Evans Plaza.